Campus plans for Tower Building renovation

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Sofie Zalatimo and Jonathan Chen

Palo Alto High School’s upcoming Tower Building renovation will include building modernization, heating and cooling upgrades, a new elevator, and a new patio, connecting the structure to the Quad. According to fs3|Hodges Construction Manager Tom Hodges, the addition of the patio will be the only major external change to the building. “On the Quad side of the building, a new concrete terrace will be added to accommodate outdoor assemblies and rallies,” Hodges said. (Graphic: fs3|Hodges)

Receiving its first large-scale upgrade since its construction in 1918, the Palo Alto High School Tower Building is scheduled for a two-year renovation beginning this summer.

According to Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson, the change is long overdue, as the only changes previously made to the Tower Building were seismic retrofitting, or earthquake safety upgrades.

“Heating’s horrible here [in the Tower Building]; cooling’s horrible here; it’s time,” Berkson said. “There have been changes and walls added here and there, but this will be the first major [renovation].”

According to Eric Holm, Palo Alto Unified School District director of facilities and construction, the construction will begin in the summer, although the exact date depends on how quickly the district can obtain a permit. Holm said he hopes to start construction soon in anticipation of supply chain issues.

“The main project will start in late June and run until spring of 2024,” Holm stated in an email to The Paly Voice. “We will attempt to start the project as soon as we get our permit, even if it means no actual work starts until summer, in order to start the ordering process as soon as possible to balance out the potential delays of some materials due to the current economic climate.”

The PAUSD School Board approved a $20 million budget for the project in 2019 under the Measure Z Strong Schools Bond. Berkson said fs3|Hodges, a construction company involved with district projects since 2002, is leading the Tower Building renovation. The renovation will focus on modernization and accessibility, according to Tom Hodges, the company’s construction manager and program director for the district’s Strong Schools Bond.

The historic library, which served as the school’s Guidance Office for years and currently houses the Wellness Center, will become a large meeting room, according to Hodges. (Graphic: fs3|Hodges)

“The old library is being restored to its original design and [will] become an Assembly Hall,” Hodges stated in an email to The Paly Voice. “A new elevator will be added for ADA access, and new accessible restrooms will be added on the first floor.”

Berkson said the front exterior of the Tower Building will not change, but the renovation includes a large patio addition behind the building, spanning into the Quad.

“There will be a pretty large patio for students to sit on the steps of or access brilliant performances right out here,” Berkson said.

The project forces administrators to temporarily relocate the offices and services currently housed in the Tower Building. According to Berkson, offices will be moved to the portable classrooms, requiring minor renovations. 

“They’ll be changing [portable] rooms like therapeutic rooms, which have to be confidential,” Berkson said. “Some will just be cubicles, and some have their own private rooms.” 

Making sure administrative operations can continue smoothly was a key concern, Berkson said.

“That was one of our bigger priorities — having to make sure that [everything is] as close to what we have right now as possible,” Berkson said. 

According to Holm, although the portables will undergo minor renovations, the administration will have to adapt to layout changes as the shift is only temporary. 

“We are replicating the functions but the spaces may be arranged differently as they are reworked to the temp [temporary] space,” Holm stated. “In general, with temp [temporary] spaces, we try to keep the customization to a minimum since the space will only be used for a short time.”

Administrators will be organizing the relocation of Tower Building offices to the portables for the remainder of the school year, according to Berkson.

“We have all the administrative offices, we have Wellness, we have the nurse, we have all the therapeutic offices,” Berkson said. “So a lot has to be done between now and the beginning of next school year.”