Former Army housing site eyed for North Bayshore school

Orion Park is perfect size for new campus, but at what cost?

Like manna from heaven, a school campus-sized site may have opened up in North Bayshore to serve the thousands of new households being planned for the area. But it will be no easy task for local officials to secure 30 acres of lucrative land located just a stone's throw from Silicon Valley's richest companies. And the land itself has one key drawback: contamination from TCE, a dangerous chemical.

The site is Orion Park, a U.S. Army-owned property bordering Moffett Field that previously held 450 military homes. After a lease deal with a private housing developer fell through in 2005, the Army closed and demolished the housing in 2009, and left the site as an eerie pocket of vacant land amid a frenzied real-estate market.

Army officials recently published a request for proposals, offering to lease the site for the next 75 years. According to the provided materials, Orion Park could be leased for commercial uses, tech offices or even a school campus.

For months, local school-district officials have warned that the rapid housing growth being pursued by the city of Mountain View was creating a crisis for local schools. Nowhere is this problem more dire than in the North Bayshore, where the city is planning to eventually create a new neighborhood of about 10,000 new apartments.

That housing growth is estimated to generate up to 3,500 new students for Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos school districts. Officials from both the elementary and high school districts say they lack classroom space for so many new students and they would need to build new school campuses. Administrators at both districts say the most immediate obstacle is finding suitable land for future schools. Mountain View Whisman officials recently reported they would needed about 50 acres in total for three new elementary school campuses and one middle school. The Mountain View-Los Altos district, which would need a new high school campus, pegged its land needs at a little over 30 acres.

The possibility of a school at Orion Park was first brought up publicly during a City Council discussion that wasn't on the agenda at the June 21 meeting. Councilman Lenny Siegel asked whether the rest of the council was interested in getting involved and advocating for the site to be used as a school or perhaps for homeless services. He pointed out that the city could have considerable leverage, especially since any prospective development at Orion Park would likely rely on city utilities and services. Mountain View council members unanimously agreed they wanted to be involved.

"I think everyone's at the brainstorming phase right now on this," Siegel said to the Voice following the meeting. "We want to be part of the process here, and that includes having input on the use."

But it may be difficult to persuade Army officials that a public school would be the best fit for Orion Park. Federal agencies have a wide variety of authorizations they can use to dispense with unneeded property, and many of those avenues give significant priority to public uses. But City Manager Dan Rich warned the Army's lease package instead seemed to be designed to net as much money as possible.

"They're trying to get the best deal they can get," he said to the council. "We brought this to the attention of the school districts, but they'll have to meet the RFP process."

The Army's materials for Orion Park stipulate that representatives can give extra consideration to an offer from a public school district that is below the fair-market value of the lease. But this clause appears to be entirely optional for military officials. That could mean the main criteria for Army officials who are reviewing proposals, whether for a public school or a new Google office complex, will be how much money is offered.

Army officials did not immediately respond to the Voice's request for comment.

The market value for North Bayshore property remains in the stratosphere after years of high demand from tech developers. Mountain View Whisman administrators estimated that land costs for a new school could run as much as $15 million per acre.

Councilman Siegel said he believed the cost wouldn't be quite so high for Orion Park, since it has limited road access and considerable toxic contamination that would need to be addressed by any new development.

Both school districts have been notified of the lease opportunity as well as its challenges. Mountain View-Los Altos Associate Superintendent Mike Mathiesen told the Voice the district would likely give the Orion Park property a pass due to its challenges.

"In reviewing the details, it looks as if the Army is looking for market-rate lease and we are not in a financial position currently to pay market rate," Mathiesen wrote. "Building schools on contaminated soil and groundwater usually doesn't go over too well in the community."

Mountain View Whisman officials were non-committal in a brief comment sent via email.

"We appreciate the attention and forethought the city is devoting to this issue," wrote Mountain View Whisman spokeswoman Shelly Hausman. "Looking at all options and collaborating for student growth will ensure our schools are not caught off-guard in the future."

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62 people like this
Posted by Toxins for little Johnny
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2017 at 1:57 pm

Parents of Kinder or 1st grade students. Are you excited about locking your kid in a room sitting on top of a contaminant so nasty that cleanup, if possible at all, could take multiple decades. Exposure occurs simply by breathing the air. The Google buildings sitting on the stuff released TCE contamination not too long ago. They've been working on the TCE Superfund site since the 80s.

I'm not a chicken little, but I would never ever EVER let my kid sit in TCE land day after day. It's laughable that it's being suggested by the Army.
Market rate prices for a contaminated site...for a SCHOOL! Oh yah, I can't see anything wrong with this plan at all. Boy, oh boy, it's a real slam dunk. Please release the nmame of the person suggesting this horrific idea.

34 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Has anyone bothered to look at the statistics for Polycythemia Vera or Leukemia in Mountain View? It would also be interesting to look at birth defects. Between the TCE-contaminated soil and the awful water, it seems like a pretty toxic place to live.

49 people like this
Posted by @Curious
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2017 at 2:41 pm

If you were to see a map of the small area of contamination as well as the verified water studies in MV you would realize you're assumption "it seems like a pretty toxic place to live." is pretty silly and only based on some bad headlines. It's like saying your entire refrigerator is full of rotten food because there's some stinky celery in the back corner of the produce bin.

47 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 22, 2017 at 3:50 pm

I thought it a huge mistake for the high school district to sell (in about 1980) the original Mountain View High School site at Church and Shoreline to the City of Mountain View to create Eagle Park. It was pretty obvious even than that Mountain View's free land was going to disappear and that the land would still be needed for a new school due to future population growth. It would have been far better for the school district to lease the high school and land on a short-term lease to hold it in reserve to need future needs, just as Palo Alto did when it closed Cubberly HS. If the HS district had kept this land in reserve, we'd still be having this discussion, but only for elementary schools and not also the MVLA HS district.

4 people like this
Posted by @William Hitchens
a resident of Gemello
on Jun 22, 2017 at 5:43 pm

And MVWSD sold land at Klein Park, Cuesta Park Annex, Sylvan Park, Cooper Park, and maybe others.

3 people like this
Posted by @ @ William hitchens
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 22, 2017 at 7:28 pm

MVWSD did not sell Cooper. The district sold Sylvan but retained the right to build a school on the site if needed.

11 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jun 22, 2017 at 9:14 pm

This is a joke, right? A school on a toxic waste plume?

14 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 22, 2017 at 10:32 pm

Enough already. No more apartments, no more cars, no more schools and no more bond measures. Stop the insane growth!!!!!

4 people like this
Posted by NW Resident
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 22, 2017 at 11:38 pm

I think MV is open to any and all areas for growth now. Costs be damned

7 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 23, 2017 at 9:20 am

There is no way I would ever send my child to a school on a toxic waste site like that. Maybe others aren't so concerned (I know there is some housing being built on similar sites in MV and people seem to buy it, maybe they don't know or don't care) but I am absolutely concerned and would never send my children to a school like that.

I hope if a school is built there, only residents moving in later in North Bayshore would be assigned to that school, and of course given the proper warnings so they can make the decision for themselves before moving in. I certainly hope current MV residents would not be re-assigned from their current LA or MV schools to this new school, considering that is not at all what we signed up for when we bought our houses. This isn't about test scores, this is a legitimate concern about fundamental health and safety of children attending that school. I would sue the school district before allowing us to be re-assigned to a school sitting on a known toxic waste site. I'm usually not so confrontational, but this is something I feel very strongly about.

Why don't they use that land to build housing (there are already some new housing sites in MV built on known TCE sites and at least some people don't seem to mind living there). People who aren't so concerned about it can choose to live there, then use other land in North Bayshore that is know to be safe to build a new school?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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