The Los Altos School District is dusting off plans to make major improvements at schools across the district, modernizing classrooms, creating tech-savvy flexible group spaces, chucking out old portables and installing solar panels at each campus.
There's just one snag: the district may not have the money to complete a single one of the projects. With so little set in stone in the district's long-term quest to buy land and build a 10th school, it's possible that bond money will dry up before the district can pursue projects at its existing schools.
The 65-page report, presented to the school board April 23, lays out over $207 million in potential upgrades to the district's schools including improvements to libraries and classrooms, facilities for extended-day kindergartens and so-called "flex" rooms for STEM-focused activities. The plans also set aside about $9.8 million for solar power upgrades that could bring the district down to net-zero energy consumption.
The report lifts its cost assumptions from a similar report in 2014, with a price tag increase of about 20 percent to keep up with construction cost inflation, architect Lisa Gelfand told school board members at the meeting.
Although the report presumes that money from the $150 million Measure N bond, passed by voters in 2014, will help finance some of the projects, it remains an open question how much money -- if any -- will be left over. Board members and district staff are working on a complex financing scheme to buy land in Mountain View and build a new school campus on it, ambitious plans that could come with a huge price tag.
The district is seeking to acquire about 8.6 acres of land north of the San Antonio Shopping Center for a new school campus, potentially through eminent domain. The district is relying on about $79.3 million in financing through a process called the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) with local developers to defray the cost of the expensive real estate, but it remains unclear how much the district would have to pay with Measure N money. Construction costs alone are expected to run between $60 million and $75 million, excluding the price of real estate.
Without that kind of information at their fingertips, board members were wary of weighing in on prioritizing master plan projects, instead punting the item to a future meeting.
"There is a huge unknown that could have a massive impact on our spending of the bond," board president Vladimir Ivanovic said.
Board member Sangeeth Peruri said he was uncomfortable having a list of prospective construction projects floating around when there's close to zero chance the district will get to them all, which could set an unrealistic expectation in the community. Things like site work and grading at Gardner Bullis, for example, may not be possible within the next two or three school bonds, let alone Measure N, he said.
"This is not like we're shaving 10 or 20 percent (of the projects), we're going to shave 95 to 100 percent," he said. "This whole process is something that seems off to me."
Along with unknown land and construction costs for the 10th site, the facilities master plan was updated with a huge degree of flexibility because of other unanswered questions. Board members have not decided whether Bullis Charter School will remain divided between the Egan Junior High School and Blach Intermediate School campuses or whether it will have a single campus elsewhere in the district.
Board members also have not decided whether to convert Blach and Egan, the district's two junior high schools serving seventh and eighth graders, into middle schools with sixth-grade students.
The master plan report, put together by Gelfand Partners Architects, states that the district would have difficulty trying to accommodate sixth-grade students at Egan and Blach with the "continued presence of Bullis Charter School." Rough sketches of both schools, redesigned for the addition of sixth grade, omit the current portable classrooms used by the charter school.
Superintendent Jeff Baier encouraged board members to think of the facilities master plan as a long-term plan separate from "this round of funding," referring to Measure N. He said trustees need to approach the list of projects with appropriate expectations.
"I don't know when the next (bond) will be, but we are talking about this current amount that we have to apply towards this lengthy plan that will clearly exceed the moneys available," he said.
Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon described the master plan discussion Monday night as a "trial balloon," and that it might make sense to wait until the fall once the district is further along in planning for the Mountain View school site.