Pipe replacement project complicates campus access

Madison Abbassi and Sofie Zalatimo

Outside the 1700s buildings, construction workers drill underneath Palo Alto High School. Many areas on campus are fenced off, complicating campus navigation for students and staff alike. “Getting around campus is a pain in the butt,” said economics teacher Grant Blackburn. “The normal routes that I want to take can be harder [to use].” Photo: Madison Abbassi.

After nearly 80 years, the pipe system underneath the Palo Alto High School campus is being replaced, a process that began about a week before summer vacation and is slated for completion by this December.

The construction project caused a temporary lack of air conditioning in several buildings during the first weeks of school.

“We were without air conditioning for a week,” economics teacher Grant Blackburn said. “I dealt with it. I put on some extra deodorant, I took another shower. Life goes on, right? It’s okay.”

Beyond the lack of air conditioning, students reported the construction is causing other inconveniences. Sophomore Kaimir Chandani said that the on-campus construction sites have been disruptive to navigating campus. 

“Construction has made it so I cannot directly walk to my classes,” Chandani said.

Freshman Madeleine Kuo said that she has also been adjusting to the construction.

“It’s really annoying,” Kuo said. “They just recently made pathways, which is good. But before, it was hard to get around and stuff.”

According to Blackburn, construction has complicated other aspects of school as well.

“Parking is tougher because the whole back parking lot is completely closed, so that means that if I want a good parking spot I have to get here extra early,” he said. 

Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson acknowledged the potential inconveniences that students and staff may be experiencing at this time, but said the construction was necessary for safety.

“It was inevitable that at some point there was going to be a time frame of uncomfortability,” he said.

With an underground pipe system that hadn’t been replaced since the 1940s, Berkson said it would be potentially dangerous to leave it untouched. The decades of accumulated corrosion could cause the pipes to burst, resulting in damage to the school and further inconvenience to the Paly community.

The administration has taken measures to ensure that COVID-19 safety measures are in place during construction, according to Berkson.

“I want to clarify that if you don’t have heating or air conditioning, that doesn’t mean you don’t have ventilation, which is important during Covid,” Berkson said.

All classrooms are currently equipped with functional MERV-13 air filters.

According to Berkson, the construction company working on the project has been consistently ahead of schedule and he is optimistic that the process may be completed sooner than December.

“[The project] is amazing because I’ve never been involved with someone being ahead of schedule,” Berkson said. “They’ve done really well. They’ve flown through this thing.”