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District plans development of drop-off area

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Written by: Catalina Zhao

Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) officials and Gunn administrators plan to construct a drop-off along the Miranda access road on the west side of campus. The road, once renovated, will serve as a secondary entrance point to the school and provide an area for students to be dropped off and picked up, in addition to staff parking.

The project is still in its preliminary stages. “We are developing a initial concept with community members and some staff that we will be sharing with the whole staff once we have met with the City,” PAUSD Facilities and Bond Program Manager Bob Golton wrote in an email. “After meeting with the City, we hope to have a recommended plan to share with the Gunn Facilities Steering Committee (FSC), and if agreeable, will be recommended to the Board of Education for approval and authorization to proceed with schematic design plans.”

The district hired architect Erwin Lee, from the company Deems Lewis McKinley, to design the drop-off. Lee has already proposed three drafts and is currently working on a new one. “The major change [for the Miranda access road] will be the separation of vehicular, bicyclist and pedestrian traffic,” Lee wrote in an email. “Conceptually, the layout will not be vastly different from what currently exists. However, since we are still very early in the design things could change.”

At the next meeting with the City of Palo Alto, Lee and district officials will review the draft concepts and discuss problems. According to Lee, a main concern will be the impact the drop-off may have on adjacent streets and existing traffic patterns.

As of now, a turnaround for cars to exit the Miranda drop-off area will be situated right before the auto yard. “Considering our concerns about [bicycle and pedestrian] safety and easy ingress and egress, considering that we need a certain number of linear footage, tree protection and staff parking, we’re looking at the turn around being right before the auto area,” Assistant Principal of Facilities Kimberley Cowell said.

The area past the turn around will be used as a parking lot to accommodate staff members. In addition, the lockers will be converted into a covered waiting area. Gunn will also remove the portable classrooms, T-9, T-10, T-11 and T-12, and the organic garden.

The need for the project stemmed origially from the concerns and desires of parents and students about having a safe drop-off area on the west side of campus. According to Golton, the Gunn community has identified the drop-off as a high priority, and the project, which was approved in 2009 by the Gunn FSC and the Board, has always been part of the overall master plan to address traffic concerns for the campus. Based on the community input and positive responses, the campus steering committee proposed the Miranda project. After the proposal three years ago, PAUSD underwent long-term strategic planning for the project, whose budget constitutes part of the larger Parking and Drop-off Project budget.

Many believe the Miranda drop-off to be even more logical because of a student population shift. As a result of the new math, English and foreign language buildings that Gunn is constructing on the west side of the campus, much of the school population will be concentrated in this area. “We looked at where we would build [a drop-off], and we realized that we’re shifting the population of the school west, so having a Miranda drop-off area makes a lot of sense,” Cowell said. “The community agreed that this was the best way to serve students and parents for pickup and drop-off. Everyone thought that a Miranda drop-off was needed considering the shift in population on campus.” The drop-off will also hopefully alleviate congestion in the main parking lot.

The drop-off is needed not only to serve the needs of the community, but also to comply with traffic regulations. According to Golton, studies determined that a legal drop-off on the west side of Gunn campus was necessary to stop illegal drop-offs at various locations, such as at the VTA bus turnout along Arastradero Road.

Officials have yet to determine the projected start and finish dates for the drop-off. According to Golton, the project cannot begin until after the current construction is completed and the portables on this west side of the campus have been vacated. However, administrators hope to begin construction by next summer and finish before the 2013-2014 school year begins.

The community has welcomed the idea for a student drop-off and is looking forward to its implementation. “This is a priority for the Gunn campus and community and we agree with it,” Golton wrote. “It is a safety project.” Cowell agrees. “I think it will spread out pickup and drop-off, making it more convenient for parents and students,” she said.

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District plans development of drop-off area