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Atherton chooses architecture firm to start civic center work

First two phases should be done by end of June

They didn't pull out the champagne, but Atherton City Council members seemed almost giddy on Wednesday, March 18, as they approved a contract with WRNS Studio to begin designing the town's new civic center, bringing the long-anticipated project a step closer to reality.

WRNS Studio, a 10-year-old San Francisco-based architectural and planning firm, will have partners Pauline Souza and Adam Woltag lead its design team. Ms. Souza has experience designing schools, corporate campuses and community centers, many of which have energy-efficiency certification. Mr. Woltag has overseen the design and development of medical office buildings, schools, public buildings and parking garages.

The firm was responsible for the Sacred Heart Schools master plan and its library (which produces all of its own energy) and the current Woodside Elementary School construction project, a water resource center in Watsonville, and a tribal community center in Brooks, California.

Council members were unanimous in their praise for the firm. "They were my first choice," said council member Bill Widmer.

Council member Cary Wiest told Ms. Souza and Mr. Woltag that the council appreciated the team's approachability. "It was the two of you who showed you really were going to be willing to work with us," he said. "We're obviously not an easy town."

Mayor Rick DeGolia said he thought the WRNS Studio team has skills the town needs. "I think that you're a team that complements the town," he said. The duo should be able to not only reach out to residents to convey ideas, "but to listen to them and to ask the right questions to be able to extract from them the nuances" that will make the civic center "one that people will really be proud of," Mayor DeGolia said.

"This is an opportunity for us to pull the town together in a way that I have never seen," he said.

"This is a very exciting moment for me," said council member Elizabeth Lewis as she made a motion that would allow the design team to start work on the civic center.

The town and WRNS Studio have negotiated a $3.2 million cost for services through the construction of the complex, with additional costs possible if the town raises enough money to pay for extras such as underground parking or meeting energy efficiency certification standards.

However, the town and the firm have agreed to phase the contract, and the proposal before the council was for $379,480, covering the first two phases of the design only, including changes to the master plan and the conceptual design of the complex.

Most of the civic center project must be paid for with donations, according to the terms of a ballot measure approved by Atherton voters in 2012. An exception is money that has been set aside to pay for a new library and for building department offices.

That means that work won't officially begin until after April 1, because that is when Atherton Now, the nonprofit that is raising funds for the civic center, said it will turn over its $250,457 share of the cost of the first two phases of design. The remainder will come from the library and building funds.

The staff report estimates the two phases will be completed by the end of June.

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