By Matthew Wilson – Cupertino Courier/The Mercury News, September 29, 2017
While it may not be converted to a town center with a green roof, trails, market hall or posh office space for techies, Vallco Shopping Mall nevertheless will be injected with some extra life next summer.
Nearly a year after Cupertino voters shot down The Hills at Vallco mixed-use project, mall owners announced this week they will give the Fremont Union High School District rent-free space there to house its Adult School for approximately four years.
The agreement allows the district to reconfigure portions of the moribund mall’s food court and construct 12 to 15 temporary classrooms for the adult school program–which serves roughly 16,000 students– while it builds new permanent facilities and classrooms near its Sunnyvale headquarters. The district said the arrangement will save it roughly $4 million in rent and other temporary construction fees.
Reed Moulds, managing director of mall owner Sand Hill Property Co., estimates there’s about 30,000 square feet of space to work with near some of the few tenants still occupying the center: the bowling alley, ice rink and Benihana. Students can park in the former JCPenney lot near a mall entrance by the food court.
“We signed a lease with the high school district with a specific space in mind,” Moulds said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Associate Superintendent Graham Clark said Thursday morning that the temporary classroom construction will cost about $1 million, although about half that cost will go toward modular walls that can be used again elsewhere. The district will be on the hook for utilities and general operating expenses such as janitorial and extra security services, if necessary. Lighting and Americans with Disability Act accessibility upgrades might be done as well, Clark said.
“I think it’s a win for the community, a win for the district and a win for Vallco,” he said.
The Adult School currently conducts classes in an old warehouse building and more than a dozen portables near district headquarters at 589 W. Fremont Ave. in Sunnyvale
The new building will be funded through the Measure K bond measure, approved by district voters in November 2014. A contract will be reviewed by the school board on Tuesday, according to Clark.
Clark said the district made a bid to buy the Raynor Activity Center from the city of Sunnyvale, but it was not selected. Moffett Field was considered too, but Clark said the district wanted a central location and likes Vallco’s location relative to its five school campuses in Cupertino, Sunnyvale and West San Jose.
“It’s closer to the center of our district. We kind of are skewed toward northern Sunnyvale and we want to serve the entire area,” he said.
Clark also touted the mall’s large parking lots.
Asked why the adult program couldn’t use existing classrooms at its five campuses, Clark said it already does on some evenings but many senior citizens, English language learners and adults seeking to complete high school degrees take day classes. The district also offers parenting classes during the day.
Moulds said the lease agreement is in keeping with pledges Sand Hill made in 2015 when it pitched The Hills at Vallco. The company promised a bevy of monetary and infrastructure benefits to both Cupertino school districts if the project was approved by either the city or voters.
“We have a long-term relationship with the high school district, and it’s been a long conversation with how we can provide benefits to this community,” Moulds said. “We’ve had a great open relationship with their (school) board and administration for a long time. It was an ongoing discussion.”
After The Hills was rejected by voters, Moulds said the district approached Sand Hill with the lease proposal, adding it was a “pretty easy decision” for the company.
“The idea is to have the district have a situation where they didn’t have to compete with the market and pay out of pocket to rent in temporary spaces,” he said. “We’ve got a vacant, rather useless mall, and they thought it could be a convenient and viable temporary home for them.”
The Adult School’s occupancy doesn’t preclude a new Vallco project from being proposed or developed in next few years, Moulds said. Much like The Hills, he said, whatever Sand Hill does with Vallco would likely include long-term planning and construction in phases across the 58-acre property.
“We have taken a good amount of time to evaluate the outcome of the last election and the right next steps for the site, the community and the city,” he said. “It is something where we obviously have always wanted to take our time and consider doing the right project there.”
As for movement or an announcement on a new project, Moulds said “we have no news to report at this time.”