The Primary School, founded by Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, leases abandoned school after dispute with sewer district over school’s favored site

Dr. Priscilla Chan

Daily Post Staff Writer

The school founded by Mark Zuckerberg’s pediatrician-wife Dr. Priscilla Chan has leased an abandoned school building after it was prevented from building a new school because of a dispute with the East Palo Alto Sanitary District.

City council approved the location Chan’s school preferred at 1200 Weeks St., but the East Palo Alto Sanitary District said the school would have to pay $4 million in sewer hook-up fees — an unusually high amount nobody had expected.

So Chan’s The Primary School did an end-run around the sewer district and leased the Brentwood Academy at 2086 Clarke Ave.

The deal will bring in more than $1 million a year for the cash-strapped school district.

As the Ravenswood school board was voting Thursday night to approve the lease with The Primary School, the East Palo Alto Sanitary District’s board was scheduled to discuss how much money it wants developers to fork over so it can improve the city’s sewer system. The sewer district contends that it needs more money to increase the capacity of the sewers, which would be maxed out by several new developments.

(On Friday morning, after this story was printed, the Ravenswood City School District and The Primary School put out this joint statement.)

‘Fair share’ proposal

The Primary School has banded together with developers MidPen Housing and Sobrato and are putting up a unified front to negotiate with the sanitary district on its fees. The three entities have hired consultants to come up with a “fair share” payment model to the district, which was being presented last night.

There is disagreement over how much the developers ought to pay because there is no study by the district to indicate how much each developer’s share should be.

But the lease approved by the school board last night will help The Primary School with its plans to provide education and medical care to students at no cost.

Earlier this year the school board voted to close Brentwood at 2086 Clarke Ave. and Willow Oaks at 620 Willow Road in Menlo Park due to a $1.35 million deficit.

The district is financially strapped because of declining enrollment. The district has about 2,000 students compared to 20 years ago, when the district had around 5,000 students. Parents have pulled their kids out of the Ravenswood district to attend charter schools, which reduces the district’s state funding.


  1. I feel so badly for the kids at the Primary School whose new facility was cancelled due to the EPASD’s excessive charges. EPASD’s corruption and incompetence has resulted in the city losing a major new development and investment in the community, one which would improve a blighted part of the city and provide a variety of infrastructure improvements. The only upside to these events is that a bright spotlight is being shown on the near criminal behavior of the EPASD.

  2. So instead of paying $4 million to help improve sewer infrustructure, they’re going to lease Brentwood Academy for $1 million per year. Sounds like a win-win situation for the city and the school district. Seems like the only person who doesn’t like this is Mark Dinan and Sobrato

  3. it’s not a win-win situation, kids – are those who’re being taken as hostages by EPASD in extortion attempt
    I’m thankful to Dr. Priscilla Chan for her strong intentions to improve our kids’s education!
    We’re immigrants who didn’t have a chance to receive good education, but our kids should should have that chance!!!
    EPASD has proved the incompetence for years, I think FBI and IRS should check their “work processes”, pretty sure they will find many interesting …

  4. I think what is more important is using space wisely!What a gift to use a school as a school – I’m sure they will serve the students well from Brentwood – and perhaps use the space originally planned for the New School to be used for BMR housing for families that attend the school- and other local leaders or returning college students!! ❤️

  5. The Above comments are made on a partisan bases. Comments are made depending on Which “Camp” You are in. The In-Fighting only helps drives those that want “Something For Nothing”.
    East Palo Alto ( EPA) has gone through Decades of “Taxation without Representation”. Now Here come The “New Comers” that want this to continue. (But up under Their Thumbs). They don’t know the History. Some don’t care to know because it benefits Them in NOT knowing. It is a Fact that EPA has been neglected, Ignored, because of NUMEROUS reasons that would take too much time and space (here) in rehashing. The Developers know that the Areas Infrastructure is OLD and DATED? This Information is readily known. If not/told to Them, that they would be taking part in the restructuring of ALL the Systems in EPA. Also a Developer or Land Planner (this) should be the First in Professional knowledge. If They claim that They weren’t aware. Then I would question a much Sinister motive of not wanting to participate. There is “NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH”. A Surgeon when They go in, don’t just take out SOME of the CANCER. They’ll try and Get it All. The Developers wished & thought that they could come in. (Business as usual) and Cop one over the City. They knew the condition of EPA, when They walked in. Now They should be prepared in PAYING the Cost of Doing Business, under the circumstances.. Because if They don’t, then once again the Citizens will be footing the bill. As They have been paying all through the decades. Then the blame will be put upon the Citizens as usual. And The Citizens will be receiving nothing, but BIG Buildings that will become a burden on The Citizens.


    From Palo Alto Post, July 17,2020:

    “The school founded by Mark Zuckerberg’s pediatrician-wife Dr. Priscilla Chan has leased an abandoned school building after it was prevented from building a new school because of a dispute with the East Palo Alto Sanitary District.
    City council approved the location Chan’s school preferred at 1200 Weeks St., but the East Palo Alto Sanitary District said the school would have to pay $4 million in sewer hook-up fees — an unusually high amount nobody had expected.”
    I want to congratulate The Primary School (TPS) reps for developing an excellent sollution to their school siting challenges in East Palo Alto. Utilizing the Brentwood School site is a very sound business decision, no sewer conection fees, nor sewer construction impact costs, and it provides much needed revenue for the Ravenswood City School District (RCSD). A great example of working together to better utilize existing community resources. Good job!

    Another big plus is that it reduces the cumulative impact on the Mid-Peninsula Housing/EPA CANDO downstream infrastructure costs at their 965 Weeks 165 unit project site – a boost to affordable housing in our community.

    Now, can we stop blaming the East Palo Altto Sanitary District for doing its job protecting our community’s access to a vital public utility – sanitary sewers?

    EPASD did not “prevent” the construction of anything. The impacts of TPS and other recent projects on the EPASD system were never considered in the planning of these projects. This is apparently due to oversight on the part of the engineering and project management consultants advising TPS. Whatever the cause, nobody (as in zero persons) ever consulted with EPASD on the matter until TPS was on the verge of beginning construction. It was assumed that infrastructure capaciity was readily available. The actual situation at EPASD was never assessed.

    City reps have tried to cover their tails by disingenuously claiming that EPASD should have predicted the unpredicted mega development, raised the rates to homeowners, and built new big sewers for future unnamed projects.

    This very newspaper is reporting non-factual “news” that is no longer relevant, such as “the East Palo Alto Sanitary District said the school would have to pay $4 million in sewer hook-up fees”. The $4 Million is an estimate of downstream infrastructure improvement costs based upon public information posted in current construction project estimation tables. That amount was significantly reduced when TPS’ engineering consultant revised their sewage demand estimate from 50,000 gallons per day (gpd) down to a realistic10,000 gpd. That reduces the downstream impact estimates considerably – a fact not reported by the Post.

    Additionally, these amounts are estimates based on accepted industry consruction cost tables. They are not fixed prices, nor is a developer required to pay these costs to EPASD. The developer can hire an underground construction contractor to do the pipeline work. EPASD inspects the project and ensures that the contractor meets all appropriate construction standards. Again, these standards are really “standard” industry-wide.

    When you refer to sewer “hook-up fees”, you may be referring to connection fees. These are assessed based on the number of residential dwelling units (RDUs) or equivalent residential dwelling units (ERDUs). Industry-wide, this is 240 gpd per ERDU. These fees are not part of the downstream impact fees.

    Let’s do the math: Connection fee per ERDU = $6060. 1 ERDU = 240 gpd.

    50,000 gpd / 240 gpd per ERDU = 208 ERDUs X $6060 per ERDU = $1,260,480
    10,000 gpd / 240 gpd per ERDU = 42 ERDUs X $6060 per ERDU = $ 254,520

    The 50K gpd error was generated by TPS’ engineering consultant. EPASD’s General Manager, Akin Okupe, a licensed civil engineer, suggested to this applicant that their sewage demand estimate seemed high for the nature of the project. Mr. Okupe was correct, and has been quite correct throughout the process. EPASD just saved TPS a million bucks – for free!

    The East Palo Alto Sanitary District stands ready to serve projects approved by the cities of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. We have never “prevented” any approved developments. We have a solid history of working with contractors and developers who work on projects connected to, or connecting to our system.

    Our process is cut and dry, almost exactly similar to other sanitary districts. We have a mathematical model of our system. When you enter the loading from any one site into the database, it maps out the route that the site’s sewage follows to the Palo Alto Treatment Plant. Wherever the loading exceeds 67% of pipe capacity, larger pipes will be required to add the increase in flow and maintain the integrity of the system. Again, common practice in the industry.

    Finally, any downstream infrastructure impact fees must be borne by the applicant/developer. The EPASD Board reasserted their policy that we will not raise sewer service charges on existing ratepayers to finance infrastructure improvements for new development. We are dedicated to protecting our community’s interests, plus it’s illegal, anyway. Thank you.

    Dennis C. Scherzer, Director East Palo Alto Sanitary District

  7. [Deleted — Don’t accuse people without evidence]

    Those defending the SD are transparently ridiculous. The SD’s actions are indefensible. It’d be great if Scherzer was finally outed [Deleted — Don’t accuse people without evidence].

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