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Superintendent gets go-ahead to seek school land
March 08, 2013, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

San Mateo Union High School District officials will spend the next six months searching for land in hopes of finding new homes for Peninsula High School and the district office.

Last night, the Board of Trustees gave Superintendent Scott Laurence the go-ahead to look for acres of central land over the next six months. There was some skepticism about finding options that meet state requirements for a school, but doing a comprehensive search will give the board more information before finalizing a plan. While Laurence said finding land was his top priority, he added that if suitable properties couldn't be found then the district will need to revisit other alternatives like moving the school onto land around San Mateo High School on Delaware Street and Poplar Avenue. This was an option the meeting's audience did not welcome. The board was happy to give time but declined to rank other options.

Trustee Bob Griffin said he struggles with continuing to provide quality programs for all students. With that in mind, he suggested looking, he said, "at property and not prioritizing other alternatives until we see what the options are."

Trustee Linda Lees Dwyer was against relocating the alternative school on the San Mateo campus altogether, calling the option too complicated. She encouraged those in the community to help in the process by suggesting property options if they see them.

Buying land raises issues. It will require the district to work more closely with a city. Purchasing land may also require that the district request a city change its zoning and general plan, which can take time.

Board President Peter Hanley was quite concerned about this, adding that buying land may lead to years of litigation and delays before a new school can be in operation. Also, he said the environmental impact studies could be costly and take much time.

Land acquisition could mean buying separate parcels for the two goals or possibly one for both.

The goal has been to move Peninsula to a central location since about 70 percent of students come from south of Broadway in Burlingame, said Peninsula Principal Don Scatena. Generally, the district is interested in land between Millbrae Avenue and State Route 92, El Camino Real and Highway 101. Finding a spot within that area would cut down on travel time for students, who often spend one to two hours daily on the bus. Scatena said a recent survey showed that 40 percent of students listed the travel time to school as the number one deterrent for getting to class.

Residents who live nearby San Mateo High favored buying land over co-locating the two schools. Traffic, for one, was a huge concern for those living in the nearby condominiums and single-family homes. Basically, they requested far more study of the impacts on traffic if another school were to be located there. Trustee Marc Friedman said moving the district office and bus yard from the land around San Mateo High would help with the current traffic issues.

Jennifer Kardos, North Shoreview Neighborhood Association board member, said students from both San Mateo and Peninsula high schools need separate space.

"All of our kids, they each deserve their own unique space so they can thrive in the best space for them," said Kardos, who said if land couldn't be found the neighborhood really didn't want Peninsula to be located in San Mateo.

That sentiment was echoed by many who wondered why rebuilding Crestmoor wouldn't be preferred over relocating the alternative school to San Mateo High.

Bertha Sanchez, Home Association of North Central San Mateo co-president, said keeping the kids at Crestmoor and rebuilding is the best option. In addition, she suggested the district focus on improving transportation.

San Bruno resident Judith Puccini agreed adding that not rebuilding Peninsula at Crestmoor would be short-sighted.

"[Moving Peninsula] is not the best solution for its students or for the children of San Bruno. Peninsula's location serves to keep these students safe and free of distractions. ... Peninsula's location also serves the children of San Bruno with athletic fields that are used constantly," said Puccini.

Puccini added that San Bruno is an aging community that will soon welcome young families, creating growth. As such, she said the space at Crestmoor will be needed.

Finding a new home for Peninsula has been an ongoing conversation that started in 2010 when a district advisory committee found that Crestmoor High School could be considered surplus if a new, appropriate home could be found for the alternative school Peninsula High and the other district services currently housed on the site.

During a January 2012 study session about Measure O, a $186 million bond measure passed in November 2010, the board agreed a new facility for the alternative school should be the next priority for the money. At the time, trustees told staff to research all options -- placing the school on land at Hillsdale or San Mateo high schools, purchasing new land or remodeling the Crestmoor site in San Bruno where the school is currently located. Community meetings were held to discuss the options.

Last summer, the possibility of moving the facility to either San Mateo or Hillsdale high school has spurred opposition at each school, by law enforcement officials and the San Mateo City Council, as well as in the community -- including two online petitions. Hillsdale was taken out of consideration due to expected growth nearby.

Another aspect to this conversation is the Crestmoor High School site. If Peninsula is relocated, the decision opens up the option to sell the property, a move San Bruno residents have widely criticized. But that topic is not what's being considered at this time.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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