Will Mid-Peninsula day school be left in lurch

People talking about a win-win situation in the mucky case of the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center seem to forget that one entity seems destined to lose.

The Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School.

Last September, the 11-year-old institution happily opened a new $8 million campus adjacent to the JCC.

If and when the center departs, Mid-Peninsula will be left in the lurch, no longer able to enjoy a next-door-neighbor relationship with the JCC that included the use of JCC sports facilities and classrooms.

"We feel a little betrayed by the city in a sense," said Gerry Elgarten, the school's director. "I feel like we were led down the wrong path. Nobody promised us anything, but then again…"

The source of Elgarten's dismay: When the city gave Mid-Peninsula permission to build at 4000 Terman Drive several years ago, it never hinted that the Palo Alto Unified School District was thinking about reclaiming the JCC site.

Then again, said Mid-Peninsula board president Ellen Brown, "at the point we were in negotiations with the city, I don't even think the city or the school district was thinking about that. It was not even considered that the JCC would not be there."

Still, it's been a frustrating turn of events for Mid-Peninsula.

"They knew we were counting on the JCC to be next door," Elgarten said of Palo Alto officials, whom he was led to believe were "negotiating for an extension of the [JCC] lease, another 25 years or so."

If the JCC leaves, the problem for Elgarten won't be where to place his kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Mid-Peninsula's 1.5-acre campus has 12 classrooms.

It's the growing middle school that has school officials worried.

This year, Mid-Peninsula has 49 students in two sixth-grade classes and one seventh-grade class. The school rents one office and one classroom from the JCC to accommodate some of the middle-schoolers.

Next year, one eighth-grade class and another seventh-grade class will be added, bringing the middle school's expected enrollment to 85. To accommodate the load, Mid-Peninsula is planning on renting two additional classrooms from the JCC.

If the JCC leaves in a few years, Mid-Peninsula officials could be scrambling.

"The plans have always been to look for space for the middle school," said Brown, nine months into her two-year term, "and clearly the JCC won't be an option if it's not there." So a site committee has been formed.

One of the options, Elgarten said, would be to send its middle-school students to classrooms at the site of the new JCC. But if that's two miles away, as the proposed Churchill site is, how practical is that?

"We're looking at everything at this point," Elgarten said. "Everything is a possibility." Except moving the entire school to a new location, he quickly added. "We're staying here," he stated flatly.

Mid-Peninsula's enrollment is rapidly increasing. Last year, when the school was located entirely in rented space at the JCC, it was 187. This year, it is 252. And next year, it is projected to be slightly more than 300.

Its students use JCC facilities such as conference rooms, a science lab and a gymnasium. They also use a soccer field that is owned by Palo Alto.

"Part of the agreement for allowing us to build here was for us to have access to that soccer field," Elgarten said. "Our assumption will be that even if the JCC moves, we'll be able to rent the field."

Those kinds of details are still in the works, however.

For example, maybe the new middle school that moves onto the JCC site will let Mid-Peninsula use some of its facilities.

"It's all being negotiated," Brown said.

Mid-Peninsula isn't doing the negotiating, however. The Palo Alto school board and city officials are talking mainly with JCC representatives at this point.

While saying "the JCC hasn't forgotten us" in negotiations, Elgarten expressed disdain that Mid-Peninsula officials haven't been able to enter directly into negotiations.

"I don't think they have to be concerned about being lost in the shuffle," said Stacie Hershman, the assistant executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. "But they are in a difficult situation."

Brown, who has three children at Mid-Peninsula, said there is little school officials can do right now besides taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"Having the JCC next door is one of the main reasons we chose our site, but if we have to, we can make do with our own plans to build a multipurpose space" for a gym and assembly hall, Brown said.

"But these are all just discussions right now," Brown added. "We're waiting to see what happens."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.