This article was originally published in the summer 2013 Harker Quarterly.
The busy commotion of construction at Harker’s recently acquired third campus on San Jose’s Union Avenue will soon be replaced by an even more exciting noise: the welcome sound of children at play.
Thanks to a dedicated crew of construction workers, architects and landscapers, the Union campus – which formerly served as a children’s shelter – is getting a much-needed facelift. Now the property seems well poised to open its doors as Harker Preschool this coming school year.
Turning the eight-acre property into a preschool, as well as the future permanent home of Harker’s lower school, has been no easy feat. To that end, Mike Bassoni, Harker’s facility manager, has routinely met with a team of professionals who for months have worked tirelessly to turn the school’s vision of creating the perfect environment for young children into a reality. The coveted Union site first opened in 1995 as a state-of-the-art shelter for abused and neglected children, boasting residential cottages surrounding a beautiful play area. However, over time there was a shift away from placing troubled kids into residential facilities, resulting in the shelter becoming nearly empty and underutilized.
Now, Anderson Brulé Architects, Inc. (ABA) is working with Harker to redesign the shelter to meet the needs of a preschool. Crystal Sanderson, a project manager with ABA, reported that the process of converting the property from a residential setting to one intended for educational day use was going remarkably well.
“The shelter was dated, so we are updating it with refreshing finishes to make it more vibrant, as well as accommodating the special needs of a preschool, with areas for napping, playing and restrooms to size,” she said, adding that her firm’s overarching goal is to help Harker transform the Union campus into a fun, safe environment, with day to day functional needs met.
To achieve that goal, existing buildings are being modified to make them more open, turning formerly enclosed housing cottages into classroom space with more natural light and room for children to play.
“Harker was really smart to find a facility that could be reused in this way,” noted Sanderson.
Pamela Anderson-Brulé, a founder and the president of ABA, added that her firm was charged with the task of not only freeing up living areas for classroom space, but for administrative office use as well. The building also had to be up to fire safety code and meet the needs of the disabled in compliance with California’s state law.
Anderson-Brulé said they were able to work largely with what they had without having to “start over,” and without a lot of construction waste. “It’s a perfect second use/second life for these facilities,” she said.
Harker first made breaking news when it became top bidder on the available third campus property. Following a due diligence period, where Harker reviewed areas such as permit, traffic, environmental and title use, the administration successfully closed on the Union property in January.
Ever since opening the upper school in 1998, Harker has planned to own three campuses. Currently Harker owns the upper Saratoga and lower Bucknall campuses, but holds a lease on the middle school Blackford campus until 2025. However, the Blackford lease has long been viewed as a temporary stopgap measure.
The school’s long-term plan is to locate the middle school on the Bucknall campus and move the lower school to the Union campus. Other plans in the works include building a gym and theater complex on the Saratoga campus to replace the gym and theater on the Blackford campus; creating a permanent solution for field use; making improvements on the Union campus in preparation for its K-5 use; and relocating some operations currently at Blackford.
And, while the preschool would initially operate on the Union property, it would later be transitioned to leased or purchased land when the time comes to move the K-5 programs to Union. The preschool will serve ages 3 through (young) 5-year-olds with the capacity to serve up to 120 students.
According to Bassoni, the addition of a new driveway to the site should help alleviate traffic flow concerns. Additionally, he said construction crews are implementing an emergency vehicle access and designated drop-off area.
Voicing his appreciation for all the donors who helped enable Harker to purchase the property, he said the project will finally be complete on “the day I get to see children enjoying and exploring the new facility.”
Indeed, the entire Harker community looks forward to the time when the sight of workers walking around the Union campus clad in yellow vests and hard hats will be replaced by young children laughing and playing.
“Harker is 120 years old … and we intend to continue our history for many more years to come,” Bassoni said.
Look for updates about the new Union campus and preschool in continuous coverage by Harker Quarterly. FAQs about the preschool are also available online at www.harker.org/preschool.