Atherton gets peek at Town Center concepts


Click the photo to enlarge and see caption. To see more designs, click here and check links under "Town Center Task Force" including "Concept Designs Presentations."

By Renee Batti

Almanac News Editor

Two architectural firms that had viewed, walked and studied Atherton's Town Center site and aged facilities over the past few months presented their visions for what the civic heart of town could look like during an Oct. 12 community meeting.

The firms' conceptual designs, which the public can view through Dec. 14 in the City Council Chambers, had a number of elements in common, such as sustainable "green" features, an emphasis on open-air public spaces, and a plan to make the site's first view to the public much more appealing.

But concepts for placement and design of buildings to house the administrative offices and the police station varied significantly.

Two firms -- Siegel & Strain Architects, the firm that built Portola Valley's Town Center, and Goring & Straja -- offered up a design that included two one-story buildings totaling about 12,000 square feet of space, with an uncovered walkway in between, according to architect Henry Siegel.

The design singled out the majestic oak tree in front of the current administrative building, which also houses the police station, as the centerpiece of the redesigned civic center.

The firm Nichols Melburg & Rossetto presented an alternative design that included two, two-story buildings connected by an arched loggia and including a community center with a rooftop terrace. The buildings would total about 20,000 square feet, according to architect Les Melburg.

The designs were the result of a competition launched by the Atherton Town Center Task Force, made up of volunteers studying options for building a new civic center. The competition, which offered no payment for the designs, attracted firms whose principals agreed to imagine the possibilities for the site.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, who chaired the task force, said the group had determined that it was best to construct new buildings rather than renovate the old except for the historic building now serving as the City Council Chambers and, on the southern end, the public library. The task force also established ground rules that no trees would be removed, the design would be sensitive to the neighborhood, and that town staff could continue to work in the center during construction of new buildings.

A key question: How will the town pay for a new civic center? Ms. Lewis said task force members agreed that funding would be raised through private donations, noting that Portola Valley residents contributed $17 million toward the town's $20 million civic center.

"I think if Portola Valley can do it, Atherton residents can do it, too," Ms. Lewis said.

The task force last year had projected a cost of $10 million to $12 million for a new center, she said.

The architectural firms have designed multiple civic projects in Northern California. An unusual feature of their work for Atherton was that they had to come up with their concepts with no input from the community. Principals for the firms emphasized that, if chosen to design Town Center, they would seek out community input as a preliminary step.

The task force has developed a matrix with which members will evaluate both designs. At the suggestion of a resident at the meeting, Ms. Lewis said the matrix may be made available for the public to rate the work as they review the designs in the City Council Chambers.

INFORMATION: The firms' conceptual designs are expected to be on view in the City Council Chambers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday though Friday, through Dec. 14. The council chambers are on Ashfield Road near Dinkelspiel Station Lane in Atherton.

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Like this comment
Posted by Moore
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2011 at 10:04 am

I am really not impressed by the design.It is very 50's and not very imaginative.
What projection has been made for the life span of this structure?
I did go to the City Council Chambers to have a look see. Actually, since I am staying at a rental home I own while my home is having a remodel in Atherton.
Was it the lowest bid that made Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis settle for this?
Frankly, it is more unattractive than unimaginative.

Like this comment
Posted by fishy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Oct 23, 2011 at 10:52 am

I agree with the above comment.
My first thought was--this building looks just like the old Encinal School complex from the late 50s.
Why would we want to build a bunch of offices for more bureaucracy to grow into?
Was this building a campaign promise made by the council members who took money from the APOA in order to get elected??

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 23, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Pretty unimaginative building if you ask me.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I have truly seen better designed buildings by architecture students here in the 'hood!

Like this comment
Posted by Smell a Rat - Use Common Sense
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 25, 2011 at 7:47 am

Didi Fisher, Elizabeth Lewis and Jerry Carlson have been involved in these Town Center task forces for years now. So why did they not raise the issue of a Master Plan before? Why now when the library committee has said it sees the need to update the one for the Park.

Clearly the Town Center involves lots more buildings and a much bigger area but never a peep about a Master Plan until now. And where has the public outreach been for the Town Center? Lots of talk but little action.

Even selection for the Town Center committee has been along the lines of an "old boy's club". And how about that cost estimate presented the other night? Unreal. And Council chambers - where most residents spend time? Not even being considered although an earthquake disaster. So are we to have another building campaign later? Isn't 20,000 sq. feet enough?

Despite claims to the contrary, is this yet another ruse to get the library's money? It seemed outright threats to leave the library authority by Carlson or even remove the Playschool from the park made by the councilmember's wife at the last Park & Rec meeting are not off-limits.

Playing dirty, misinformation and leading questions via petitions and surveys seems to be a central element of the game plan. Carlson mentions keeping the money for Atherton but advocates giving library money to elementary schools. Why not disclose his role as founder and member of the shaky Selby Lane School Foundation? Redwood City could not pass an $85 parcel tax years ago and the Foundation is in trouble. Library money would be a real boost and he knows it. Conflict of interest?

Wake up Atherton, the Task Force is out to get the library and you might want to question its motives, let alone its facts. Don't let the politicans --all the ex-Mayors(everyone is an ex-Mayor) lead you by the nose. The new library can be good for the Town, for your children, for the environment, even for the Park and the other activities taking place there. The Town Center may well be something the Town needs and wants, but it should be questioning itself, not others.

Like this comment
Posted by in the business
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Perhaps if Atherton had paid for the design work it would have been better. [Portion deleted.]

Like this comment
Posted by Leadership
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Three hundred signatures, the Park and Recreation, four former Mayors, and two current council members wanted to survey the town. Three council members and the Friends of the Library want to build a Regional Library without asking for support of the residents.

The Town Center Committee and Blue Ribbon Task force have held numerous town meetings, built web sites, and offered tours to residents as part of their outreach.

The Library in the Park Committee won't even provide the numbers of how many Atherton residents a day use the library. Does the region need another library so close to the Menlo Park Library? Many towns keep their library close to other Government Buildings.

A survey could have been done months ago.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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