By Ellen Hu
Summit Denali High School is searching for a permanent campus, and school leaders are working to show their proposed campus is the best location for the school. The school plans to appeal to the City Council in a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.
On Dec. 10, Summit Denali High School appealed to the Sunnyvale Planning Commission for a new campus on San Aleso Avenue in northern Sunnyvale. Students, parents and staff from the school attended the meeting and filled the room with support. The meeting lasted from 7 p.m. well past 10 p.m. Within this three-hour period, the planning commission team, Summit Denali’s director and Summit Denali parents were able to make themselves heard while discussing the possibility of further action taken toward the approval of the new campus.
Summit Denali currently holds two campuses in Sunnyvale: the Weddell campus, which holds the middle school, and the temporary Washington campus, which holds the high school. As a temporary location, Denali will have to move out of the Washington campus in 2019.
Denali Executive Director Kevin Bock said that the school has gone through a long search process in collaboration with the Sunnyvale city planners which involved analysis and elimination of over 40 different locations. In fall 2016, the San Aleso campus was decided as the best fit for the permanent campus. In December 2017, Summit Denali submitted its application for the campus.
The proposed campus was constructed in the 1960s and was occupied by a ceramics manufacturer until the 1980s. Currently, the building is not occupied. If approved, the school plans to undertake several improvements. These include the removal of a mezzanine, painting the exterior with more contemporary colors, new crosswalks and pedestrian safety measures and the inclusion of bicycle parking.
Parking has proven to be the largest issue in the approval of the new campus. The proposed plan holds 69 parking spots in total, with 22 of those spots in a mechanical parking structure reserved for teachers and staff. Parking permits (decided through applications) would provide select students with a parking spot throughout the year.
The City of Sunnyvale holds a requirement for all schools and buildings to to have one quarter of a parking space per student who attends the school. However, larger schools in Sunnyvale, such as Fremont High School, do not follow this requirement as they are run and designed by the school district instead of the city.
Given that the Summit Denali High School campus would begin the year with 400 students, the school is required to have 100 parking spots. The school hired Kimely-Horn, a planning and design consulting firm, to do an analysis of the number of parking spots that other Summit schools use. After this consultation, the firm reported that the school needed only 54 parking spaces (0.13 parking spots per student). Mr. Bock claims that this is the same level of student parking provided to students at Fremont High School.
Many questions were raised among the planning commission members. These questions encompassed concerns regarding the faculty parking structure, the location near single-family housing and the use of invasive bamboo to add to the landscaping. As parking issues were brought up, the Planning Commission seemed skeptical.
Nonetheless, Chair of the Planning Commission Daniel Howard brought up the history of schools in northern Sunnyvale. “Why haven’t we built a high school on the North side of the city?” he asked. In place of what is now the private school named Kings Academy, Sunnyvale High School used to serve students on the northern side of the city. Now, these teenagers attend Fremont High School.
Denali parents pointed out different transportation trends that didn’t include driving. “My son doesn’t like to drive, even though I urge him to drive, and I think that is a trend we see in other students,” parent James Chen said. “Instead he bikes to school.”
Other parents discussed the role of the school in the community. “Two teen boys who want to go to school, it really speaks to my heart,” parent Sue Johnson said in regards to her two sons who attend the high school. “Denali will be a Snail asset.”
The planning commission meeting left Summit Denali families and staff disappointed as the commission voted against the permit. Nonetheless, Summit Public Schools is undeterred. “We are very excited to be working with the City of Sunnyvale,” Mr. Bock said. “We are also excited to bring a school to the north side of Sunnyvale, and we are confident that the site is a good location for the school.”
Denali leaders have gone through this process in their request for approval for the Weddell Campus, which is now used for the middle school. “[I]n our quest to open our middle school at Weddell, we lost in front of the Planning Commission,” Mr. Bock said in an email to Denali parents and students. “And, we were later approved in front of the City Council.” He views this denial simply as a step in the process of finding a permanent campus.
Featured image (at the top of this post): This diagram displays the proposed San Aleso campus; it was submitted to the Sunnyvale Planning Commission. PHOTO CREDIT: City of Sunnyvale