Progress on new Denali campus draws excitement and worry during COVID-19
By Angela Hwang
Summit Denali High School expects to be welcoming students at the new San Aleso high school campus at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, assuming there is in-person learning. 824 San Aleso Avenue is about a mile and a half away from 539 E. Weddell Drive, which is the current middle school campus, and about two and a half miles away from 195 Leota Avenue, which was the high school campus before the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shut down.
San Aleso is expected to be Denali’s permanent high school building, found after seven years of searching and moving. On Apr. 23, the Sunnyvale City Council revisited and approved the plan for the campus. Construction on the new building began in the summer of 2019.
“Major work has been done on the building, which has been entirely gutted and rebuilt as a school,” Denali Executive Director Kevin Bock stated in an email. The site was originally a ceramics factory and so required extensive remodeling.
“Construction was briefly halted earlier this year due to COVID-19 restrictions but has been able to resume under more recent county orders,” Mr. Bock added. “We are committed to strictly following the requirements from the county to curtail the COVID-19 outbreak and there are safety protocols in place on site.”
According to Santa Clara County, some of the safety protocols effective June 5 include providing, using and not sharing PPE and keeping workers socially distanced.
“These delays were costly in terms of time and money,” stated Summit Public Schools’ Director of Government Affairs Kate Gottfredson in an email. “But have not impeded our ability to proceed.”
Since the plans and the construction for the building were started before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, lasting aspects will not reflect the new guidelines for COVID-19 prevention. However, according to Ms. Gottfredson, the “school building design already maximizes movement and open space.” Should there be guidelines specifically for schools, Denali would “get creative and make it work,” said Denali Dean of Instruction and Culture Laura Zado.
“It will be hard to get used to,” Denali sophomore Katrina Lee said. “We’ll have to wear masks and still not be able to sit that close to other students, which will be more complicated and difficult.”
As with most Summit schools, the San Aleso site will be a single building rather than the several buildings and facilities that make up many public high schools, which could potentially be difficult for social distancing. Lee added that she thought it would be “hard this year” because “students can’t stay too close together, which means they can’t put as many students in a classroom at a time.”
In contrast, Denali junior Annika Garcia was excited about more indoor space.“Finally more classroom space for all the grades and no more splitting up community groups. Also, no more huge PLT classes in a huge gym which would be good,” she said. (PLT (personalized learning time) was the old name for SDL (self-directed learning).
Because the St. Cyprian campus did not have enough classrooms, students were often placed in the gym for self-directed learning (SDL).
The San Aleso site will also not have as much outdoor space as the St. Cyprian site on Leota Avenue. The St. Cyprian site was in an old school building on church grounds, where students had access to the field. Lee expressed her concern: “that we won’t be able to be outside because it feels nice for us to walk around, not in classrooms.”
During the meetings with City Council, various people expressed concern about parking issues, so compromises were made. “Initially, the site did not have enough parking as required by the City of Sunnyvale ordinance for our use,” Ms. Gottfredson said. “However, through an independent analysis of other schools’ actual parking use, and an independent analysis of other schools’ actual parking use, we were able to reach an agreement that will incorporate the use of parking spaces at another site to make up the difference between what is provided on-site and what is required.”
“Specifically, we made an arrangement with St Cyprian Parrish to rent us parking spaces to meet the requirement of the ordinance,” Ms. Gottfredson said. “Based on this rental of spaces Summit Denali now meets the ordinance for parking. However Summit does not believe that we will need these spaces based on our actual parking use.”
Denali junior Benjamin Kim expects “a better campus than the previous one,” while Garcia expressed concern that, after she leaves, younger classes will “mess up the new building.” She went on to state that “it’ll suck knowing that our once brand new building would be ruined because they don’t know the value and importance of having our own new and permanent building. They’ll just see it as just some other school building.”
Garcia’s class, as well as the other three high school classes this year, have previously been in four temporary locations, including the current campus. Only one of those sites, the Weddell campus, became the permanent middle school campus in 2016.
“Since I’ve been at Denali since sixth grade and we’ve been constantly moving buildings, it’s good to know that we are finally getting a permanent building for our high schoolers,” Garcia said in an interview. “I feel it would have a positive effect on the community for having a permanent building because we would all finally get to fully settle into a building that is finally gonna be fully ours.”
Garcia went on, “Every year we have had to move which has caused our community to not fully be comfortable in the building we are in because we know we are gonna end up moving anyways.” The incoming grades will not have had that experience.
“We are really excited,” Ms. Zado said. “I think there’s a lot of growth that a school can undergo when they have a permanent home. I know our community has gone through a lot, moving from building to building. So I’m really, really excited for Denali High School to have a permanent spot and really get to settle in some roots. For both our families and our students.”
There is an African proverb that goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That could not be more true here, except that Denali is raising multiple children. Mr. Bock stated, “Getting to this point has taken the dedicated work of an amazing community of students, families and Summit faculty. I especially want to thank the students and families who spent many late nights at the Sunnyvale City Council earning approval for our campus.”
Featured Image: Denali envisions the new high school building on San Aleso. PHOTO CREDIT: Summit Public Schools Facilities Team