Bullis Ideas: Share At Covington School

Reader David Roode thinks there's plenty of room on the Covington campus for both schools, and that the site has been underutilized since it was improved with school bonds.


Editor's Note: On New Year's Day, Patch asked readers to contribute ideas, large and small, to helping to resolve the facilities issue regarding Bullis Charter School (BCS) and the Los Altos School District (LASD). It could be as simple as an approach, or a more fully thought-out plan.

 We don't expect a magic bullet to appear, but who knows? The point was to start out the new year on a positive and constructive note, with members of our community thinking about solutions and a way forward.

We are publishing one each day. David Roode is a Los Altos and is not a school parent. He moved to Los Altos from Mountain View the year after the school upgrade capital bond passed in 1998, and said he thinks it would be fitting to "finally get full use out of that ten-year-old investment" on the Covington campus:


I believe the best solution for a long-term location of Bullis Charter School is to make better use of the underutilized Covington Elementary School campus.  This spot offers a far greater capacity and a better environment than the current camp school space at Egan Junior High School.  

Not only could BCS exist at Covington, but it could do so alongside the current Covington School, with some rearrangements of the site. These rearrangements are much more economical than some of the suggested solutions such as renting a school outside the district or acquiring the land on which to build a new school. As a district-wide charter school, the central location of Covington is ideal for BCS. It can be very cost-effective for LASD as a way to organize existing resources to serve the growing student population. Without a district-wide school like BCS, this option of full utilization at Covington would be difficult, so this is a win-win solution, benefiting the taxpayers. 

The numbers alone tell the story. Covington has available 16 acres, contrasted to the 18 acres of Egan or the other district intermediate school, Blach. This is an extremely large site for a single elementary school. Elementary schools are typically smaller and most within LASD are 10 acres, with outdoor space that goes unused for much of the school day. As such, it need not be duplicated but could be shared if two schools were co-located. Intermediate schools utilize more space and this is what makes it difficult to squeeze a full elementary school onto one of the sites. An elementary school site of 16 acres provides much more opportunity to add students.   

The space at Covington is so copious that the district has diverted about two  acres of ground to house the district offices and warehouse operations.  It has also leased out 0.8 acres of space to the City of Los Altos, which uses the space as an adjunct to the adjacent 5.7-acre Rosita Park. I would argue that it would be better locate the district offices elsewhere, and the relatively small ground needs of about two acres make this feasible. It’s not clear that the whole district operations needs to be housed together, so potentially it could be broken in half and housed on two other district schools if need be, such as Blach and Gardner.  Both of these campuses have small populations for the size of the land available. Covington has collected a lot of operations like the Art Docent central office pre-school SDC classes which could also be parceled out amongst other district schools.  

I would reserve the bulk of the current camp school site at Egan for future emergency use, as this is a valuable resource, being that it is five-plus acres, all in one spot.

 At present, Covington has about 50,000 square feet of built-out or portable space, not counting space used for the district offices. It also houses a 4,000 square-foot after-school childcare space which could serve BCS students as well.  Currently BCS is the only school in LASD with no provision for after-school care.  The Covington library is 4,000 square feet, which is the largest library at any LASD elementary school. This, too, might be shared between two elementary schools on the same site. The total 50,000 square feet now at Covington is large for a population of only 500 students, which is right in the middle in LASD, with 3 schools having a larger population and 2 schools having smaller. The three larger schools average 41,000 square-feet of indoor space, so that should mean there is 10,000 or so square feet of excess capacity at Covington.   

The additional indoor space to house a full two schools would come from relocating some of the existing portables onto Covington, utilizing existing district office buildings, and adding more pre-fabricated buildings onto the Covington site.  

New pre-fabricated buildings could include a two-story wing for optimal use of the land. The layout of the Covington should be planned carefully to maximize the benefit, but this exercise is much easier than acquiring a new school campus. The removal of the district offices provides space, and this space is adjacent to some of the least-utilized ground at Covington which could also house more portable classrooms. I estimate that by replacing or reusing the district offices and these other options, there could be an additional 50,000 square feet of usable indoor space to make a total of up to 100,000 square feet to serve two schools, plus the 4,000 square feet of after-school child care space. 

In summary, this would be much less costly than any other option and would provide a much better solution, both for Bullis Charter School and for LASD. [Updated Addition by Mr. Roode, 3:30 p.m.:] It’s also good to note that this is a case of history repeating itself.  During the time after Covington Jr High School started operation in 1952 with 500+ students, an adjacent Parochial school began in 1953 and operated on the site of Rosita Park with 400 students. Covington closed in 1980 as a cost-saving measure, but the St William school next door continued operation until 1990.

—David Roode

David Roode is a Los Altos resident

Joan J. Strong January 13, 2013 at 09:25 PM
We should certainly be open to any plan that does not involve closing a neighborhood school. What I don't get about this plan is why it is markedly better than the current Egan/Blach based sharing arrangement. Isn't Egan/Blach a better option for traffic? Everybody talks about "acreage" because of the Prop 39 rules, and our schools here seem to have endless amounts of empty grass in the back. However, the REAL limitation for campuses surrounds car traffic, as near as I can tell. I agree and I'm sure most others agree that nobody particularly cares where the District offices end up. Also, why not go to two story pre-fab structures as a stop-gap as well? Regardless, we should look at all of these solutions as temporary until we build out two more school campuses, and until we know the long-term enrollment picture for BCS. We should all be focused about 3-4 years out when it comes to a permanent solution. Our educational model here is based on distributed, small, neighborhood schools. We need a school for the NEC community and another one at Hillview for a flexible campus for special programs ala BCS/BCS Clone, Mandarin Immersion, etc. Its totally crazy that we are rationing school campus capacity in a town like ours.
mtnview_parent January 16, 2013 at 09:21 PM
I like your idea of utilizing the land better. I think they need to do that. I think the only concern is that as BCS enrollement grows, the LASD and Covington will keep fighting for more space. Covington fate would need to be re-evaluated yearly as per prop 39. This is no good for anybody. Also, if there are shared facilities, more litigation and fights are to be expected. In the spirit of your idea of using the extra space of Covington, can LASD use your extra 6 acres to do a land swap to locate BCS on another site ? That way, Covington would have 10 acres like the other school, and we can find another 10+ acres for BCS. In the new site, a mix of money and land swap may do the trick for an underutilized space.
Norma Schroder January 16, 2013 at 11:10 PM
Joan J, I agree that for another year of Prop 39, a BCS share on Covington elementary or a better BCS split on Egan-Blach are an improvement. Joan I love the 2-story prefabs - I wrote about Meehleis in March. There is a lot of empty grass on both Covington and Blach. [But sports fans will tell you local leagues can't live without that empty grass. And unlike now, Prop 39 land on Blach should be a big rectangle]. And I agree traffic, especially car traffic might be the deciding factor. Joan, Blach has been in the news for its traffic during 2012. The back entrance to Blach was limited by residents. A plan for a traffic light at Covington and Miramonte was quashed by over 300 residents. Grant Road is iffy. Blach has traffic issues now. As for Covington, Mr. Roode's historical research shows...there must have been a second entrance to Covington in the past? Eminent Domain? The city of Los Altos recently modified El Monte and Rosita. El Monte was narrowed to just one lane in each direction, and light timing to cross Foothill is now 10X the worst. So Covington has traffic issues too. I agree that the land on both these junior high sites is terribly under utilized. It will take a traffic engineer to to say which campus has more traffic challenges. And let's not forget the Egan has been living with over capacity traffic for quite a few years now. Years ago nearby Egan residents petitioned the City to to close the back entrance to the school.


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