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 is a Los Altos resident