The SFUSD has planned for years to build a school at a 2.2-acre site in Mission Bay. But The City's rapidly growing population and projected increase in student enrollment means a bigger location could be needed. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

SF leaders plan for new school in Mission Bay

City and school district officials have reopened talks of building a new public school in Mission Bay, but a site long designated for such a purpose may no longer suffice.

That’s because more than 12,000 new students are expected to enroll in San Francisco’s public schools by 2040, many of whom will live in southeast neighborhoods – and the school planned in Mission Bay is for 500 students, city leaders said Thursday at a Board of Supervisors City and School District Select Committee meeting.

Talks of increased enrollment are unfamiliar to the San Francisco Unified School District, which for decades saw a decline in new students. In 1994, more than 62,000 students were enrolled in public schools; last school year, there were 57,000 students.

But with the region engulfed in a development boom, more and more residents are expected to move to The City in the coming years.

In fact, it’s anticipated that more than 174,000 people will need about 72,530 new units of housing by 2030. Thousands of such housing units are already on the horizon, primarily on Treasure Island, and in the Bayview and South of Market neighborhoods.

Of those three areas, 31 percent of new students in the SFUSD are expected to live in the Bayview. Another 20 percent are anticipated to live on Treasure Island, and educators expect 18 percent of new students will live in SoMa.

“Our population is really rapidly growing here in San Francisco,” Supervisor Jane Kim said at Thursday’s meeting, adding that District 6, the area she represents, gained 25,000 residents between 2000 and 2010.

The growing city last year even prompted first-ever talks between the district and Planning Department to better coordinate housing projection growth coupled with the increased student population.

But even without new housing, district officials have estimated that up to 6,000 new students will enroll in public schools by 2023, mostly at the middle and high school levels.

“This is a paradigm shift for the district,” said Orla O’Keefe, executive director of policy and operations for the SFUSD. “We’re moving from declining enrollment to growing enrollment.”

That change has prompted city officials to resume talks of building a school in Mission Bay, a neighborhood that has seen its own transformation in the past decade. Last February, UC San Francisco opened three new hospitals there. The Warriors have proposed building an 18,000-seat arena in the area. Thousands of new homes and offices are coming to fruition as well.

Building a school in Mission Bay was first outlined in a 1998 Mission Bay redevelopment plan, when a 2.2-acre parcel of land that’s currently vacant was set aside specifically for The City and school district to build a 500-student school there by 2027.

The Board of Education discussed the school around the 2007-08 school year, at the start of the recession and when residents were beginning to move into Mission Bay. But city leaders now recognize the urgency.

“The growth will definitely attract more families,” Supervisor Norman Yee said at Thursday’s meeting. “This is the right time and we need to get of the curve here.”

Mission Bay children won’t necessarily attend a school in that neighborhood because the district gives enrollment priority to kindergarten students who live in neighborhoods with the lowest test scores. Still, the growing number of students means a new school is needed – but by this point, the Mission Bay site could be too small, district officials said.

“We must build a new school in Mission Bay,” Board of Education Commissioner Sandra Fewer said. “The site that was given to us might be adequate but…a larger site that could accommodate more students would be more beneficial to the district.”

Fewer added that there’s no time to waste – it takes the district five years to build a school.

“It would have been nice to be at the table earlier than now. We are playing catch-up,” she said. “I’m sure we have some 3-year-olds that are anxiously awaiting to attend our new school in Mission Bay.”

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