Bond, School Bond

With all of the commercial development going on around Redwood City, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our schools are getting some major upgrades as well. I often walk by the Orion Alternative Elementary School campus (formerly John Gill) and continue to be awed by the massive construction project that is occurring there. As well, my wife and I are regular shoppers at Signona’s Farmers Market (on Middlefield Road, across from Costco), and we usually end up coming in from the back, by Hoover Community School. Over the past year or so we watched the construction of a beautiful new gymnasium on that campus. Although it seems a bit odd to see such lavish construction when the school district has just gone through a round of campus closures and school consolidations, the consolidations put more emphasis on the campuses that are still open, and in any case the projects are paid for out of bond money: Measure T funds.

Measure T was a bond measure from back in 2015. It enabled the Redwood City Elementary School District (RCSD) to “increase its debt by up to $193 million through issuing general obligation bonds in that amount.” The funds thus obtained were strictly to be used for capital improvement projects: they couldn’t be used for teacher salaries, for instance. Most if not all of the district campuses received funds for modernization, which included not only technology improvements and additions but also a host of general repairs and upgrades to the various buildings, walkways, and parking lots. And at least some of the campuses received funds enabling them to undertake major construction projects, some of which I’ll cover in what follows.

I live in Redwood City’s Eagle Hill neighborhood, where Orion Alternative Elementary School is located (although my house and the school are a fair ways apart). That was our local school when my kids were beginning their educations, although back then it was a more traditional school called John Gill Elementary. My two boys both went through the school’s innovative “K-2” program, which put a number of kids from all three grades in one classroom. For some subjects the older kids (the second graders) helped the younger kids, which reinforced the older kid’s learning. Although I can only speak for my own children, it seemed to work out well: my boys seemed well primed for their later grades.

The K-2 Program was housed in a couple of classrooms in the north-west corner of the campus, along the driveway leading in from Avenue del Ora. This picture, from back in 2015, shows that part of the campus:

Although the campus is undergoing a number of changes, the most significant involves the demolition or relocation of some five small buildings (a couple of which are shown in the above photograph) and constructing in their place a single large two-story L-shaped building. This new building will contain kindergarten and elementary classrooms, plus some administrative spaces.

Demolition began in July 2020, with site preparation for the new building beginning in August. Since then work has continued. I went by just the other day, and took some pictures of the construction so far, which is even more impressive in person than my pictures show. First, here is a picture from roughly the same angle as the one above, but taken from across the street so that I could get the entire building into the frame (the white truck is parked on the driveway you can see in the earlier photo):

I then shifted down the street towards Jefferson Avenue so that I could get a picture showing more of the building’s “L” shape:

I’m not entirely sure when this new building will be complete and ready for occupancy, but I’m guessing that it won’t be in use when school goes back into session in the fall…

After looking at Orion, I headed over to the Kennedy Middle School campus. That campus’s Measure T projects were less ambitious in scope, and were mostly completed some time ago. Since I didn’t write about them back when they were underway, allow me to do so here.

On the Kennedy campus, Measure T funds were used for a couple of projects, primarily to construct a new administration building/family center, to construct or redo some parking lots, and to add a number of EV charging stations to one of those lots. These projects were essentially completed by January of 2020, when a ribbon-cutting was held for the new administration/family center building. Here is that building:

The school’s new main entrance is through the doors in the pea-green section of the building towards the left of the image. The Family Center is around the building to the right, facing Goodwin Avenue:

The new parking lot is, well, a parking lot — except for the EV chargers. There are an astonishing number of them for a middle school. I was pleased to see, however, that during off hours — that is, on weekends and on weekdays after 5 p.m. and before 7 a.m. — the chargers are available for public use.

Kennedy still has one small project ongoing, to further expand their parking lot. On the Goodwin Avenue side of the campus I noted that the land near some classrooms has recently been graded, likely in preparation for paving:

After Kennedy, I proceed to Hoover Community School. Hoover apparently also added a number of EV charging stations to their parking lot, although I must admit that I didn’t happen to catch where they are located (their installation was also completed some time ago). I was too drawn to the school’s new gymnasium:

I love those bright colors! This project is essentially complete, although it apparently isn’t quite ready for student use since there are is still some minor construction fencing keeping curious onlookers like me from getting close enough to peek into the building’s few ground-floor windows. From the handful of tiny photographs the school district has posted to their Measure T website, though, it sure looks nice inside…

Lastly, on to Garfield School. Garfield, which is located in North Fair Oaks along Middlefield Road, is one of those campuses with a classic old main building. Like RCSD’s other campuses, Garfield has been getting modernized, with new technology, improved security, and minor repairs and painting throughout. Garfield is also receiving a new parking lot and concrete walkways, a new drop-off/bus loop area, and, most significantly, a “new two-story building to include elementary, creativity, science, and middle school classrooms, along with a new library/media center” and a new Child Development Center for preschool classrooms. 

Because of the way the campus is oriented, some of Garfield’s projects — the new two-story building, in particular — are difficult to get a good look at. The new drop-off/bus loop area, though, is presumably what is being built right in front of the historic main building; that isn’t too hard to see:

Because it is being located behind the main building, though, the new two-story building is much harder to get a glimpse of. Fortunately, from just the right angle I was able to get a peek at some of the steel framing for it:

Garfield’s old CDC (Child Development Center) buildings had to be relocated to make way for this new building: they are now located near the front edge of the property, adjacent to where the library previously was. That library was demolished last October; where it stood will become a parking lot.

$193 million is a lot of money, but it clearly is being put to good use on the various RCSD campuses. It appears that construction will continue on at least a few of those campuses when classes resume in the fall, but presumably the district has plans to keep the remainder of those campuses functional while construction continues. I’m just glad that I don’t have to be the one who figures out how to make that happen…

While I was taking a look at Hoover’s gymnasium, I took the opportunity to look in on an interesting nearby development (not school related) within Redwood City. I mentioned that my wife and I make regular trips to Sigona’s, and whenever we do I cannot help but look at the dirt lot just across Willow Street, next to La Estrellita. This lot, which is located at the very prominent corner of Middlefield Road and Willow Street:

I’ve wondered for years why this lot continued to sit, undeveloped. After all, an empty lot in Redwood City is a very rare thing. But several weeks ago I noticed activity on the property, and over time my wife and I started to realize just what was going on. Although the lot is not being developed in the conventional sense — no one is building a new building on it — it is being turned into a very specialized plant nursery. One that deals exclusively in Japanese maple trees:

There is a banner on the fence along Middlefield Road, one that proclaims Japanese maples to be “living works of art.” After a brief chat with a gentleman who apparently is behind this new venture, indeed this is to be a retailer of these beautiful trees. I asked him when he was planning to open, and got a curious answer: he wasn’t sure. As for the reason, he told me that he’s been selling so many trees to landscapers that he simply hasn’t been able to set the business up for normal retail sales. However, he did give me the distinct impression that if I wanted some trees, he could make that happen (it wasn’t clear if he could sell them to me direct or whether he’d do so through one of the many landscapers he already deals with). But he is selling trees, and they are beauties. They aren’t cheap, though: Japanese maples are slow growers, and many of these trees are fairly large, meaning that someone has been raising them for quite some time. Thus, expect to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for some of these magnificent specimens. 

If you or someone you know is interested in obtaining a Japanese maple, you might just drop and see if there is anyone on the premises you can speak with. Or, just keep an eye on the site: surely he’ll open to the public eventually…

I am posting this on Friday, July 2, 2021. Like last year, regretfully, Redwood City will not be hosting its well-regarded Fourth of July parade. Nor will it be putting on its annual fireworks show out at the Port of Redwood City. One popular activity will still be taking place however: the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation’s annual Chalk Art Walk. Professional and amateur artists alike will be using colored chalk to create a variety of artworks on downtown’s streets and sidewalks, and those of us who love such things are invited to take a half-mile walk to enjoy the fruits of their creations.

The Chalk Art Walk will take place on Saturday, July 3, and Sunday, July 4. Saturday is when the artists will be creating their works of art, while Sunday will be a day to enjoy the completed masterpieces. Thus, you may want to do as I plan to do, and take the walk on both days. The route runs between Courthouse Square and the Main Library; you can start your walk from either end, whichever you find the most convenient. From there, directional guides on or along the sidewalk will enable you to see the entire display.

For more details, including a map of the route, head to the Parks & Arts Foundation website. And note that there is also a separate chalk art contest taking place over the weekend in which individuals and families will be creating their art where they live. The winners of that contest will be announced on July 11, but don’t be surprised to see chalk art creations all around the city over the next several days.

6 thoughts on “Bond, School Bond

  1. Thanks for the Idea Chris ! Red Maples are WATER hungry in this area. Be prepared for this eventual reckoning with the City as they control more of our lives and limit your water budget for landscaping.

  2. Orion seems to have been on the move over the last few decades as far as I can remember. When I moved to Redwood City in the early 90’s Orion was the school on the corner of Granger Way and Harcross Rd, it was downtown off Warren St for a while. Not sure why they keep moving around it but I’m glad to hear it’s still part of RCSD.

    • Orion School is a keeper but has a small population so it then becomes the easiest to move around 😦 It actually began on the Kennedy campus at the “annex” that was on the corner of Connecticut and Washington.
      On another note, that once empty corner on Middlefield, was once a Hancock gasoline Station (way back in the day) and probably nobody wants to pay for the toxic cleanup involved in unearthing that site!
      Thanks for the read!

  3. When we moved to Redwood city in 1950 I went to John Gill for a year. I was in a second/third grade combo class. This was not due to educational innovation however. It was because the early baby boomers were reaching school age and there was nowhere to put them. I went to the newly built Roosevelt the next year for forth grade, then Goodwin (Kennedy) fifth through eighth.

  4. Thanks for the update re the lot with Japanese maples. I sure hope no jerk reads your article and chooses to steal or vandalize. They make an empty corner greener (it more copper-colored).

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