Last spring, the seven San Francisco Unified School Board members unanimously approved a resolution to direct newly appointed San Francisco Unified School District superintendent Vincent Matthew to begin planning a school in Mission Bay. The institution – kindergarten through fifth, sixth, or eighth grades – is expected to be completed by 2023. A 2.2-acre lot on Parcel 14, provided by the University of California, San Francisco, has been reserved for the campus, close to the Mission Bay Circle, a roundabout, bordered by Owens Street, Sixth Street, and Nelson Rising Lane, home to UCSF’s Neurosciences Clinical Research Institute.
According to Matt Haney, Board president, who coauthored the resolution, a number of details about the school have yet to be decided, including the grades it’ll cover and whether or not it’ll have a special focus. “This will be determined through a community process, a needs assessment, and consultation with partners,” he said. “It is also possible that the site may include a district preschool. Ultimately, the decision will be made by the Board.”
The district anticipates high demand for the school. Roughly 70,000 new housing units are being built throughout San Francisco, a significant percentage of these in or around Mission Bay. A number of the residential complexes contain affordable housing units, accessible for purchase or rent to families with children. As a result, SFUSD enrollment is expected to increase by upwards of 14,000 students by 2025, stretching existing campus capacity.
Funding for the campus is secured by part of a $100 million set-aside for school construction in Bayview and Mission Bay. The money comes from a $744 million facilities bond City voters approved in 2016. Bond funds can also be used to build below market rate housing for teachers.
A 90-foot height limit for the school site could make it possible to, in addition to the campus, develop affordable housing for teachers, space for public meetings and community college classes, or a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math laboratory to educate students and train teachers.
“We put clear timeline benchmarks into the resolution,” Haney said. “It will take four to five years to actually build the school. The sooner we get moving, the better. Currently the site is sitting there growing weeds, completely underutilized. It is our responsibility to use to it to the best and fullest potential. This is going to be a huge win for the community and our entire City.”
According to Sarah Davis, spokesperson for Mission Bay Families, a group of 80 neighborhood households who support the school, advocacy for Mission Bay Children’s Park, a 2.4-acre green space at Long Bridge and China Basin streets near Mission Creek, served as a catalyst to develop support for the campus. “This was really an effort of a lot of people and groups,” said Davis. “The South Beach Democratic Club helped do the strategizing. Mission Bay Families did the outreach to families. Parents from SoMa, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch got the word out using email lists and tabling at events. Mission Bay CAC and UCSF gave us institutional support. We all had our own groups. We came together to create the MBSSC.”
Bruce Agid, Mission Bay School Steering Committee lead and past president of the South Beach District 6 Democratic Club, said parents – trading off to care for their children – and residents regularly attended SFUSD Board meetings to voice their support for the school. On the night the resolution passed, about 40 advocates organized by MBSSC were at the gathering.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the strong support of the community,” said Haney. “There has been huge support and excitement for a school in Mission Bay among residents, businesses, institutions, and families. They came out to all the public meetings, joined with us to draft the resolution, and have been champions and close partners. They have made the difference in sparking a renewed conversation to finally get this done.”
Mission Bay is beset with construction activity, little landscaping and closed streets, a challenging environment for young children. “This would all be part of the conversation as we design the school,” said Haney.
“The challenge and opportunity for Mission Bay is to ensure those remaining connections have aspects that are at a human scale,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president.
Richard Garcia, parent of a toddler and Mission Bay School Steering Committee member, said that he expects upcoming projects to add to the community’s growing resources and character. “There’s a lot more greenspace going to be built out in the neighborhood, including with Lot A with the Giants and the Warriors arena,” said Garcia. “This will add to the greenspace and children’s parks already in place around Mission Bay and UCSF. These future projects and buildings will add to this unique neighborhood that is accessible to others around the City.”
“Once the area around the school is built out, it’s going to be very attractive and welcoming to kids coming to the school,” said Agid.
Although the Boosters haven’t taken a position on the school, Eppler said he’s happy to see the project move forward. “There’s certainly more need than anticipated,” he said. “I think that naturally there’ll be a science and technology influence on the school given the nature of UCSF to the south and the residents of Mission Bay.”
“I support getting the Mission Bay school as soon as possible,” said Corinne Woods, chair of the Office of Community Infrastructure and Investment’s Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee. “We have hundreds of children living in the neighborhood. We want them to grow up here and for their families to be able to stay and build Mission Bay as a community.”
According to Haney, there are more than 15,000 Mission Bay residents, including many children. “There currently are no elementary, middle or high schools, public or private, in the Mission Bay area,” said Haney. “This is unacceptable. This is a community that urgently deserves and needs a school. Our demographic estimates show that the greatest growth in new SFUSD students over the next seven years will come from the SoMa/Mission Bay area. Soon, we will not have enough classrooms for the number of students in San Francisco. It is critical that we get ahead of this challenge,”
SFUSD’s rules regarding school choice dictates that an elementary school in Mission Bay will be open to children throughout the City. However, Mission Bay parents are hopeful that they’ll shift from having to transport their children to Potrero Hill and Mission schools to a campus closer to home. Davis, whose 12-year-old daughter, Olivia, is in secondary school, wants Mission Bay to accommodate a middle school. “That’s part of the long-term strategy to keep families here. This school isn’t for me. It’s for my grandchildren,” said Davis.
Following approval of the Mission Bay school resolution, the Board and UCSF expressed interest in cooperating to develop the school’s focus and curriculum. “We are very interested in collaborating with UCSF. The opportunities are limitless. We certainly could envision a close partnership where we draw on the deep resources of UCSF and its community to deliver cutting-edge educational opportunities to children at the Mission Bay school in science, technology, and health,” said Haney.
“UCSF has a rich history with the San Francisco Unified School District through such long-standing programs as the Science and Health Education Partnership. A school at Mission Bay would provide greater opportunities for our joint educational missions,” said Paul Takayama, assistant vice chancellor for community and government relations at UCSF.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity. It’s one of the best universities in the country. What they could add from a science perspective could make the school unique,” said Garcia.
“I think one of the most special things about this school will be that it will be literally in the backyard of UCSF. It feels perfect to develop STEM education at the campus, using some of the space for broader educational purposes,” said Sarah Bertram, parent of a toddler and a Mission Bay Families member.