Board Asked to Examine Conditions at Da Vinci; Invest in Facility Upgrades


Parents, teachers and students from Da Vinci High School came forward during public comment on Thursday asking the board to put the long term facility needs on their agenda.  At the end of public comment, the board agreed to agendize the issue for discussion.

When the voters passed Measure M, the facilities bond, they allocated around $150 million for prioritized projects, but Da Vinci High School was not one of them.  Since then, many involved in the program have come forward asking the district to re-examine the problems with the facility that is the site of the now closed Valley Oak Elementary.

One parent noted that his son, 10th grade, is talking about transferring to Davis High.  He said that Da Vinci “is a unique option for students looking for a unique approach to learning.”  However, he said, “these words really fall short when you look at the status of the school.  It really appears like a neglected campus that does not emulate or support what is going on inside.”

A staff member at Da Vinci read a letter on behalf of one of his colleagues – Windy Pickett.

She wrote, “at the heart of the Da Vinci pledge, which all students know and believe is the concept of innovation.  At any given day at Da Vinci, you can hear somebody say, read, fire, aim.  Which speaks to our philosophy of not only being bogged down by the details, but being willing to take the risk for the greater good.”

“At Da Vinci we trust each other to try new things in a safe community and we are reminded regularly that this method pays off,” she wrote.

“Right now Da Vinci Charter Academy has kinds of thoughts on how our school can continue to harness its best energies of its teachers and its students to continue to improve,” she wrote.  She added that they need the district and board as partners, and they would be happy to share their thoughts about programmatic and facilities needs.

Another Da Vinci parent speaking in representation of other advocates asking the board to put their facility needs on their agenda.  A few weeks ago a group formed the Da Vinci Facilities Improvement Committee – they have started a petition signed by over 140 community members and voters.

They are asking for one simple thing – “we the undersigned urge the Davis School Board to agendize the programmatic vision and facility needs of Da Vinci.”

Kendra Norton speaking on behalf of the Da Vinci Alumni Network – she is both a 2010 graduate of Da Vinci high and a first-year teacher at Da Vinci Junior High School.

“With the passage of Measure M, I’m glad to see that the district has the money to address its facility needs, however, I’m disappointed with how little of that money will be going toward Da Vinci Facilities,” she said.

She explained, “I’m especially concerned about the fate of the awkward and aging high school campus which has been home to the program for the last 12 years.”

She laid out the high priority needs of the high school campus, “which include a dedicated science classroom, PE locker rooms and an appropriately sized parking lot.  The students of Da Vinci deserve a campus that reflects the high quality of work that they do.”

A high school parent on the Da Vinci Advisory Board told the board that one of the three core area of concerns identified earlier this year was facilities needs.  “The focus has driven our interest in funding disparity and specifically the needs of Da Vinci for a facilities plan.”

Their facilities subcommittee drafted a letter to the board – and all students, parents and community members signed it.  She and a ninth grader on the advisory board read from the three page letter.  Their request was put Da Vinci on their agenda for discussion and consideration.

“They have (been successful) with subpar facilities,” she read.  “The Da Vinci High School is currently housed in the back of one of the oldest campuses in our district.  A campus that was built to hold an elementary school and is inadequate to meet the needs of high school students.”

“The Da Vinci students have been promised an appropriate facility for the past 15 years and thus far those promises have gone unfulfilled,” she said.

She expressed disappointment that the needs of Da Vinci is not a priority for the facility bond money.

“Currently the district and the school board do not have long term vision for the Da Vinci Charter Academy program,” she stated.  “This has negatively impacted our facilities vision.”

She said this has led “to immediate safety and educational shortfalls.”  She added that while other sites have facilities needs, “we do not see the same level of need at any other campus.”

The student added “the current facilities do not adequately accommodate our students or staff.  There’s no long term facility plans.”

She noted that Valley Oak was built in 1953, modernized to meet elementary school needs in 2000, but “not modernized to accommodate a high school.”

She identified the following immediate needs of the high school: space where a school community can gather, high school level science facilities and labs, appropriate administrative office space, PE and locker room facilities.  She said, “Da Vinci has no gymnasium and no locker rooms.”

She also cited inadequate parking for students, staff and parents.  “Safety is a concern here,” she explained. 

“15 to 20 percent of DJUSD high school students attend Da Vinci Academy, and yet we are not seeing equitable facilities,” she continued.  She pointed out that Davis High is scheduled to received $41 million in Measure M facilities upgrades in addition to the several upgrades in recent years to its facilities.   She listed off a dozen and stated, “although not all of these upgrades are brand new, they are all much newer than the facilities that Da Vinci students are using.”

“The Parking situation at Valley Oak is an immediate safety concern,” she said.  She said, “Despite these concerns being shared with the district staff since 2009, there have been no meaningful changes.  Parking related issues are being addressed at other sites with Measure M money, but not Valley Oak.”

Another student said, “At Da Vinci we don’t currently have a space that can actually hold our entire student body.   Tomorrow we’re having a rally, but it’s hard to have a rally when you have to split the school up into smaller groups because there’s nowhere for us to meet.”

She said they have a spot on campus that’s supposed to be our library, tech zone, student lounge and presentation room, “but it’s too small to do any of those things.”  She said, “We need better science facilities – we currently only have one classroom that is meant for science and even with that, when we do labs, we can’t fully do them… half the people have to sit out because we don’t have the space or the resources we need.”

Doing chemistry last year, they could not do half the labs in the required textbook due to lack of space or facilities.

The board agreed to agendize further discussion on this topic at a later time.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Board Asked to Examine Conditions at Da Vinci; Invest in Facility Upgrades”

  1. Todd Edelman

    appropriately sized parking lot

    Parking related issues are being addressed at other sites with Measure M money, but not Valley Oak.

    The City of Davis. Where a child can park a car at high school for free but can’t pay to use their parent’s bike share membership to ride a bike there.

    Is Measure M money going to be used for parking, and not “parking-related issues” such as the lack of a school bus program here? I am absolutely clear on the fact that lots of teachers and staff come from outside Davis. But a surface level parking lot is expensive, and where would it go at DaVinci? Affordable housing is the primary solution for this, and beyond that the City and DJUSD should not support (at least new) access of schools by cars along anything but arterial routes. So ideally DHS parking lots would have access directly from Covell, and e.g. Holmes would have parking at Oak Tree Shopping Center (with a three-minute bike ride to campus). For DaVinci what’s the current connection etc. to the parking at the shopping center a couple minutes walk away?

    The Green New Deal also applies to Davis.

    1. Don Shor

      There’s room for more parking at Da Vinci. There’s a whole playground area from when it was an elementary school that could be used, at least in part. It’s a matter of providing access through to it for vehicles, striping, etc. I suspect providing more parking is not going to be costly or complicated at this facility. The building upgrades for secondary and high school uses might be more expensive, but clearly necessary if this is going to be the long-term home of this school.

      1. Bill Marshall

        As other commenters are pointing out, student parking opportunities are not in the best interest of the students, the neighborhood, or those use use E Eighth as a collector street for east-west travel across town… even more so since the Fifth Street ‘road diet’ was put into effect… 

        You are technically correct as to ‘space available’… but there is no good way to do a wrong thing…

    2. Richard McCann

      The district has a bigger high school parking problem. It should be discouraging students from driving to school except when absolutely necessary. Students should have to pay high permit fees unless they have an after school job that necessitates a car. Interdistrict transfer students should not get a break–they agreed to come to the school under the conditions specified. Once that policy is in place, then we can decide if more parking is needed.

      1. H Jackson

        “Interdistrict transfer students should not get a break…”

        Also, if a student has work after school and needs the transportation to get there.  It may not be so common in 2019, but such situations exist.

        1. Bill Marshall

          if a student has work after school and needs the transportation to get there

          Ironically, that was a “means test” to be allowed to park @ my HS… rare… even in the 70’s…

  2. Richard McCann

    David wrote in his Monday Morning Comments:
    “This is a huge problem for me because while I support Da Vinci and think it is a great and necessary school – the optics here would be awful the district does for Da Vinci families what they were not willing to do for Valley Oak families – invest millions inot the campus facilities.”
    The important difference is that the District has substantial excess capacity in its elementary schools (maybe Koramatsu shouldn’t have been built). But that’s not true on the DHS campus. If Harper had been converted to a second high school as originally envisioned, then investing in da Vinci wouldn’t make sense, but that’s not the case. The da Vinci (and pre school) campus serves a different population and need than Valley Oak did.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I’ll agree on much of the “needs”, but additional parking (except, perhaps, for bikes) is not one of them.

      There is land next to Harper that could be acquired and used… for a new Da Vinci… 

      The current site could be re-purposed as medium-high density residential, transit/bike/ped oriented… Unitrans serves the route, and there is retail and other services quite close… might help further invigorate the commercial/shopping site close by.

      If the Valley Oak site can be renovated to serve Da Vinci, at a reasonable cost, great… but just because the parents feel “special”, it should not necessarily be a “special” priority… choices were made by all by re-purposing Valley Oak.  Hopefully, those decisions were made fully understanding the limitations… trade-offs…

      1. Don Shor

        additional parking (except, perhaps, for bikes) is not one of them.

        How do you know? How do the other commenters here know what total parking area would best serve the students, faculty and staff at this repurposed site? I’ll listen to the folks on the ground who go there daily before I’ll consider the opinions of those who want to dictate the travel methods of the whole community. Students have a lot of reasons for driving to and from school. I won’t second-guess those.

        Da Vinci is a magnet program with students coming from all over town, so there is a greater likelihood that the older students will be driving. There is a perceived parking requirement and I suggest we not single out the students at this program in declining to meet that.

  3. Ron Glick

    This is going to be an interesting and instructive issue to watch. The Da Vinci people should have shown up when the facilities bond was being placed on the ballot like the pool people did. Before the vote is when the squeaky wheel is most likely to get greased. The pool people got a lot of money promised up front by being in the room when it happened. Sadly, DJUSD only floated a bond for around 1/3 of the district’s facility needs, so many things will not be funded. The impact of showing up after the vote might be measured by what impact the late entry of the Di Vinci community into the demand for facilities has on the final disposition of the facilities bond money and tell us if making demands before the vote gets better results than making demands after the vote. Time will tell.

    1. H Jackson

      “The Da Vinci people should have shown up when the facilities bond was being placed on the ballot like the pool people did.”

      More importantly, show up and share one’s views when the facilities master plan approaches completion.  A component of the facilities master plan is prioritizing facilities needs, which in turn informs what receives funding more immediately when the bond issue comes up.

      The problem with Da Vinci needs was that it included a proposal to consolidate both the JH and HS campuses into one site at the Valley Oak campus, and to improve facilities based on that assumption.  The school board wasn’t ready to decide if they were ready to see that consolidation happen, so the Da Vinci facilities improvements got pushed down in priority because of it.  Nevertheless there were some improvements that could have been made at the Valley Oak campus regardless if consolidation happened or not.  It would have been more strategic for Da Vinci to have taken the consolidation question out of the equation for now.

  4. Sharla Cheney

    It looks like DaVinci is looking for a long-term solution for combining the Jr High and High School Programs into one site.  Valley Oak isn’t suited for this.  Davis could have two High Schools and two middle schools as a design (with DaVinci a school within a school at one of the High Schools), but even this wouldn’t combine it into one 7-12 program.  
    I think students at DaVinci take some courses at DHS (science, music, language, etc.), so drive their cars in order to go back and forth easier.  Long ago, before Valley Oak closed, there was an idea to place DaVinci at North Davis Elementary so it would be easier for students to attend DHS courses.  So, I agree that the students likely do need a parking lot.  I think that changing the playground into a parking lot may take more than merely re-striping.  I’m not sure that playgrounds are designed to have the weight of cars on them full time.  It would also help the neighborhood to not have the crush of cars parked along 8th Street.
    The only way I see being able to give DaVinci their own complete school site would be allow enrollment to decline and then reduce Jr. High to 2 sites and place DaVinci at either one of the Jr. Highs.  Or another option is to make DaVinci a full 4 year High School at Harper, turn DHS into a 4 year school and revert Junior Highs to middle schools.  Then sell Valley Oak or move the District Office there and sell the downtown site.  This would be a more compact design and give South and East Davis a more accessible High School.

  5. Julie Knudsen

    Having adequate parking at a high school encourages kids to learn to drive. When kids don’t drive themselves, the parents are making two trips instead of kids making one trip, and congestion is worse.
    I think the Board has heard the DaVinci case and hopefully will put its needs on the same level as the other schools’ needs. I’m surprised we don’t do better on the facilities at the high schools compared to the elementary schools.

    1. Todd Edelman

      Having adequate parking at a high school encourages kids to learn to drive.

      How could this go wrong?

      Anyway, for any necessary parking – out of City teachers, students with car-dependant jobs right after school, etc. – what’s the problem with making an arrangement with the shopping center? Is there already an arrangement? Seems that peak times of use are rather complementary, yes?

      1. Don Shor

        what’s the problem with making an arrangement with the shopping center?

        Why would the owners of that shopping center want to encumber their parking lot with that?

        1. Bill Marshall

          For $$$?  The lot is never close to being ‘over-parked’ by those visiting the businesses… probably far cheaper than the demo, construction, maintenance, and reconstruction of add’l parking @ Da Vinci… I see it as a potential “win-win”.
          Some may be dismissive of any alternative, as it is “for the kids”, after all, and DJUSD never errs…

          1. Don Shor

            Some may be dismissive of any alternative, as it is “for the kids”, after all, and DJUSD never errs…

            I feel that these kinds of comments don’t really help the discourse here.
            I am concerned about the repeated suggestion of repurposing private parking lots for public purposes. If I were a business tenant in that shopping center, it would definitely concern me. I suggest that it is better for the district to use its own property for their own parking requirements.The cost is described in the link I provided earlier.

        2. Tia Will

          Why would the owners of that shopping center want to encumber their parking lot with that?”

          Perhaps for the good of the students and the community? My son attended Da Vinci High and I have frequented businesses in the adjacent shopping center. I have never seen the parking lot even close to capacity.

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