Castilleja expansion updates

Earlier this month, Castilleja School released its latest iteration of expansion plans, hoping that changes, such as an underground parking structure and tree preservation, will appease residents opposed to the project.

Through these proposals, Castilleja school officials hope to modernize school facilities and therefore increase enrollment. Ongoing plans involve restructuring current academic buildings, terracing a lowered campus center to permit fluidity and allow amphitheater seating and moving the pool below grade for noise reduction.

These modifications intend to keep historic characteristics of the school while creating a greener campus that blends in better with the neighborhood, school officials said.

In accordance with the new plans, the exit ramp of the proposed garage will align with Melville Avenue. This change will divert cars away from private residences. Both the new building and garage will be redesigned to preserve the existing wildlife, as many trees can not be relocated.

Ninety percent of campus trees will be kept, and 70 percent of campus trees will remain their current location In addition, 22 newly planted trees will be added to the campus.

Nine palm trees will be relocated off campus and five trees would be removed. A sixth tree, a 100-foot redwood, was removed after a consulting arborist and the city’s urban forestry department determined that the tree was diseased and potentially hazardous.

The revised plans, which have been made public until the end of May 12, include more than 30 new documents, including a comprehensive environmental impact report with arborist consultations, noise studies and topographic surveys.

The new proposal is the school’s most recent effort to obtain a conditional-use permit that would increase campus enrollment to 540 students over four years.

The underground parking garage will accommodate cars from both students and employees, replacing two single-story homes owned by the school.

It is among the most concerning aspects of the expansion plan for residents, as cars will exit directly onto Emerson Street before and after school hours.

“We have more demand for this school than our current facilities can accommodate,” said Castilleja Chief Operating Officer Kathy Layendecker. “It seems wrong to turn away students who really want the education.”

However, nearby residents of the “Protect Neighborhood Quality of Life” neighborhood group remain unsatisfied. Forty-five residents found the changes to be largely insignificant and delivered a petition to Castilleja on May 3 reiterating their opposition against the underground parking garage, fearing it will only worsen traffic congestion.

“It is distressing to see that [Castilleja] continues to imply that the neighbors of the school are in favor of the underground garage. This is not an accurate assessment of the neighborhood.”

Protect Neighborhood Quality of Life petition

In response, Castilleja school officials have expressed concerns that some neighbors have misunderstood the garage’s purpose, which was to address the congestion around the school by moving the cars off the street to underground lots, not to encourage more student and faculty members to drive to school.

Castilleja school officials have also cited their current traffic-management program, which includes van pick-up to Caltrain, carpooling, morning shuttles and staggered bell times.

“I think that traffic congestion is not a fair term to describe what occurs around [Castilleja],” Layendecker said. “We’ve actually fully embraced our responsibility to reduce traffic in Palo Alto.”

Layendecker also revealed that Castilleja has reduced traffic in the surrounding neighborhood by 20 percent over the last three years, a figure confirmed by an independent auditor who measures peak traffic levels around the campus.

Castilleja school officials also agreed to regulate itself if it exceeds maximum enrollment or fails to keep traffic at the current level of 440 peak trips.

The first and second violations would require the school to increase its traffic-demand-management efforts, and upon a third violation the school would be forced to reduce enrollment by five students every year until the number of peak trips drops below the limit.

Petitioners also remarked that Castilleja is already over-enrolled and should revert back to the 415-student quota it was granted by a permit issued in 2000. Castilleja was fined by the city in 2013 for enrolling up to 448 students, and has subsequently submitted a plan to reduce enrollment to 438.

Addressing concerns that Castilleja is not engaging in meaningful dialogue with affected residents, Layendecker remarked that all of Castilleja’s recent expansion proposals, including the initial plan submitted in June 2016, were the result of a continual effort to find common ground with nearby residents.

“Castilleja has been on a process over the last four years of soliciting and responding to feedback from neighbors … in order to get to a place where Castilleja can provide a good education for young women … and the residents can live in the neighborhood comfortably,” Layendecker said.

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