By Renee Batti
Almanac News Editor
The town of Atherton took another step forward in the effort to upgrade its aging and cramped government offices when the City Council on Sept. 15 green-lighted the request for architects to submit design proposals for a new Town Center.
The cost of a new center is projected at about $12 million, according to the volunteer Town Center Task Force, which has been examining options and costs for such a project since March. Options for funding include private donations -- an idea supported by at least some of the task force members, including City Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis.
"I think if Portola Valley can do it, so can Atherton," Ms. Lewis said, referring to that town's mostly privately funded $20 million Town Center, completed in 2008.
The town already has about $1.8 million earmarked for the construction of a new building department facility. That department, along with the planning department, now works out of trailers in Town Center -- housing that was supposed to be temporary when it was set up in the late 1990s, according to Councilman Charles Marsala.
Task force member Steve Dostart reported to the council that rebuilding the facilities would be from $300,000 to $500,000 more than rehabilitating the existing buildings. But because of a number of factors, including a significant reduction in construction time if the project were started from scratch, the option to build brand new facilities "is the clear winner," he said.
Funding options presented by the task force include building the center entirely with private contributions, or funding the estimated $6 million police station through private donations and the remaining costs through a bond or parcel tax.
The task force report listed various options for bond or parcel tax funding, with parcel tax estimates ranging from $55 per year per parcel to $265 annually.
The task force provided figures indicating the amount of space needed to create a well-functioning Town Center, tallying the total square footage at 14,416. Of that, 6,900 square feet would be devoted to a police station.
The council chose to move ahead on seeking design proposals now rather than wait until early next year, when a new council will be seated. "It doesn't mean the town is making a commitment," said Mayor Kathy McKeithen. "We need to have a design to ask people to give (donations)," she said.
Resident Jon Buckheit cautioned the council against endorsing a new Town Center without considering what measures the town might have to take in the future to address its financial problems. "The elephant in the room is, we're supposed to be looking at outsourcing," he said, noting that San Carlos has outsourced its police services to the county Sheriff's Office and that a "huge portion" of the new center would be devoted to a police station.
Mayor McKeithen replied that even with outsourcing, space would likely be needed for on-duty staff, vehicles, equipment, and holding cells.
The task force was formed to refine the work done by the now-disbanded Blue Ribbon Task Force, which was headed by Councilman Marsala.
Task force members were assisted by consulting engineer Phil Warnes, president of SigmaTech, who provided his services for free. The task force was to be disbanded at the end of the month, but the council renewed its mandate and directed it to continue gathering information while issues such as possible outsourcing of town services are worked through.