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November 30, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A scaled-down Town Center for Portola Valley? A scaled-down Town Center for Portola Valley? (November 30, 2005)

** Council appears agreeable to recommendation for smaller project.

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

The idea of a $20 million civic center with four new buildings and regulation baseball and soccer fields has been waving at the top of Portola Valley's conceptual flag pole for about a year.

But the number of residents saluting it -- never an overwhelming or outspoken majority -- may be dwindling, and the idea looks increasingly vulnerable to being hauled down and replaced.

At the November 21 Town Council meeting, council members sounded agreeable to discussing a scaling back of the project to three buildings, as recommended by the town's architectural review board at its November 7 meeting.

"We have probably developed a project that is, at first, a little too complex, a little too deluxe," said Councilman Ted Driscoll. He compared the initial design to having free rein in a candy store.

Councilman Steve Toben said he was impressed by the degree of consensus for the three-building plan. But, he said, "we certainly don't want to forget how much (public) participation went into designing" the current four-building plan. That plan is based on results from a community workshop held in June 2004.

More input is needed from more people, said Councilman Richard Merk. "Without community consensus, we're going to have a very difficult time making this work."

At its November 7 meeting, the five-member Architecture & Site Control Commission commented on the massing of the current plan and studied alternatives from the architectural design team. At 8 p.m. Monday, December 5, the ASCC and the design team will meet again to discuss design issues. The meeting is public.
How much change?

If project spending proceeds as budgeted, the town will have spent about $1.4 million by June 30, which includes costs for the current conceptual plan, detailed design and construction documents, sewer design and soil studies.

In the ASCC-recommended three-building alternative, the Town Hall and library emerge relatively unscathed, but the community hall and activity rooms are merged.

The plan for a large library has particularly vocal support in the community, but Mr. Merk challenged its sanctity. The library was originally proposed as a 7,000-square-foot building; although the latest plan reduces it to 6,100 square feet, it would still be the largest building in the center.

"I think that space is as up for grabs as any other space on the site," he said, adding that he is merely broaching the topic, not advocating for a smaller library. It could be smaller and stay open longer, he noted.

Re-examining the library design would put it "in play" with the architects and would "reshuffle the deck," Mr. Toben said. "I would prefer that they concentrate on those elements that are truly in play."

"Spending more money now to reshuffle the deck is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying a lost bet at the end," said Mr. Merk. "We're going to all this trouble to make this so green, but the first R (of the slogan "reduce, recycle, reuse") is reduce."

Library functions are increasing, Mayor Ed Davis said. "I don't know of any library that is smaller today than it was early on. I'd like (the design) to stay stable somewhere, frankly."

The Architecture & Site Control Commission is holding a public meeting to discuss the design of the proposed buildings for the new civic center at 8 p.m. Monday, December 5, in the Historic Schoolhouse at 765 Portola Road.

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