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School Board Bumps Overhauls to Next Phase

Old Mill and Tam Valley renovations are moved to design development stage, while Edna Maguire's schematics get the green light; construction timeline remains major hurdle.

The Mill Valley School District Board gave the green light to move modernization projects at Edna Maguire, Old Mill and Tam Valley schools to the next design phase Tuesday night, crossing a hurdle for each in what has been a lengthy planning process.

"We have achieved what we believe are some significant milestones at each of these schools," said Pete Norgaard, program manager for Van Pelt Construction Services, which is overseeing the management of each of the projects for the district.

The three projects were discussed and voted on separately by the board. The board moved Old Mill and Tam Valley, each of which includes a range of renovations and upgrades but pale in comparison to the complete reconstruction at Edna Maguire, to the last phase of design development. Edna Maguire was moved past the schematic design stage, with design development approval expected to come back to the board at the end of the year.

But while the bulk of the night was spent on designs, it was the schedule of the Edna Maguire project that has the district in a pickle. Both neighbors and parents of the school have asked for a timeline that is much more accelerated than the 30- to 36-month schedule that has been proposed, but where to house the school in the interim presents a host of challenges the board must sort out before Oct. 31.

"We have 45 days to figure this out," board member Steve Sell said.

The district's modernization plans date back to 2004, when staff began researching a comprehensive approach to addressing its problems of aging and limited facilities and rising enrollment. District Superintendent Ken Benny said that enrollment has risen by an average of 100 students for each of the past six years and now stands at approximately 2,815 students.

In November 2009, district voters passed Measure C, a bond measure to pay for $59.8 million of work throughout the district. The Old Mill and Tam Valley projects have moved the quickest, and Norgaard said he hopes to put both projects out to bid by spring 2011.

Marcus Hibser of architectural firm Hibser Yamauchi described minor changes made to the scope of work at both schools since the last round of public input meetings in June. The changes were made for both cost and design considerations.

For instance, substantial public input about the need to make the new Tam Valley design more bicycle friendly incited the move of the bicycle racks to the front of the campus and a widening of the sidewalk from five feet to eight feet. Much of the district's recent meeting at Tam Valley was dominated by discussions about accommodating Tam Valley's growing use of bicycles to get to school.

Because of its size and the constraints posed by its location, Edna Maguire has been a monster of a project for the district.

Wally Gordon of DLM Architects took attendees on a virtual tour of the proposed 11.3-acre campus, highlighting a slew of changes from the existing campus. The new campus will have: 28 classrooms, up from 24; more than 14,000 square feet of play structures and kindergarten play areas, more than double the current total; nearly twice the amount of parking stalls; a large multipurpose room that will be used during school hours and by a range of after-school activities; and much more area for parents to queue up for drop offs and pick ups of students.

The latest design received broad support, and Edna Maguire Principal Lisa Zimmer praised Gordon, particularly on the heels of a June 30 public input meeting that raised a slew of concerns.

"We've beaten him up pretty good and he's still standing," she said. "And if you look at this through the eyes of children, they are going to love this."

The construction schedule was an entirely different matter.

The board did not vote on the construction schedule Tuesday night, saying that it first wanted to hear from the public and continue to explore possible solutions. The original proposal would have lasted until summer 2014, allowing for a reduced impact on the neighborhood and the school but over a much longer period of time than is common practice in similar projects. The longer timeline was proposed because of unique site constraints at Edna Maguire and to accommodate the concerns of neighbors and parents, Norgaard said.

"The request we heard was, 'Can you impact us more for a shorter period of time than to impact us less for longer?'" Norgaard said, noting the cost savings a shorter schedule incurs. "We love the idea. But the challenge is to find a way to house the existing staff and students."

The district is exploring a wide range of options to allow for the accelerated schedule of 15-18 month and finishing before the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, but none of those options is perfect and nothing has been decided.

The options include:

  • Using a portion of Alto Field for temporary school facilities, a plan complicated by the recent $600,000 renovation of the field, funded by Friends of Fields.
  • Relocating part or all of the school temporarily to the blacktop at the back of Mill Valley Middle School, posing a host of other challenges.
  • Using a proposed new turf area on the new campus as interim space and not completing work on that area until the rest of the project is finished.

The district is also hedging about how the project will affect Marin Days Schools' facility at Edna Maguire. Several parents of day school students expressed concern that the school could be relocated away from Edna Maguire.

"It would affect families profoundly," said parent Michelle Birenbaum.

One option not being considered is using any part of the district's space that is leased to Ring Mountain Day School, as Benny said the lease generates significant revenue the district depends upon. The district must explore all of the options and make a decision by the end of next month.

"If you look around, there just aren't that many places in Mill Valley to relocate an entire school," board member Robin Moses said.

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