Design of Atherton civic center coming into focus


An Atherton civic center with connected two-story police and administration buildings opening off Fair Oaks Lane and a renovated council chambers becoming part of a new library was given the nod by the Civic Center Advisory Committee on Monday, July 6.

A few more details of the design of the new civic center were pinned down by the advisory committee, but they asked to see still more refinements before making a recommendation to the City Council. The project is already a month or two behind schedule according to consultants working on the project.

The committee members were unanimous in telling the architects, from the firm of WRNS Studio, that they like a design combining new town offices for police and the rest of the city administration as well as including a meeting space for the City Council. The police and administration buildings share a lobby and second floor access in the preferred plan.

Committee members also said the town's existing council chamber should be renovated as a part of new library, preferably with direct access from the new building.

The conceptual plans show the police and administration buildings as two stories with the library one story. The second floors are smaller than the first floors, so the buildings look smaller from ground level. The firm is also designing the complex to be energy-efficient and to retain storm water on site.

One of the major design features of the new buildings that the architects have maintained through all their designs is being able to see through any buildings built along Fair Oaks into a green courtyard space beyond the buildings. The design preferred by the committee has a glass-walled lobby that allows views through it to the green space beyond.

Council member Elizabeth Lewis, who with Mayor Rick DeGolia is council liaison to the committee, asked that the architects think about how the buildings could be expanded in the future as needed in case the town wants to provide services that haven't yet been thought of. "We're not in the mode of growing our city government," she said, noting Atherton's population had actually decreased at the time of the last census.

Eying costs

Cost seems increasingly to be a factor in the design of the new civic center, which a ballot measure approved by Atherton voters in 2012 says must be mostly paid for with donations. The only exceptions are funds that have been set aside to pay for a new library and for building department offices.

"We've got to be prudent, and tight, and lean and mean," said council member Lewis at one point during the meeting.

"I am very concerned about the budget," said Didi Fisher, who is part of the Atherton Now group raising funds for the civic center.

That means trying to make spaces work for more than one purpose, and not including any unnecessary space. Committee members asked the architects to explore making the council chambers also work as an emergency operations center and as a police training facility. City manager George Rodericks said the council chambers could also be used as a large conference room for the city offices, eliminating yet another office space.

The committee also asked that the consultant hired by the architects to design the new police building return to the committee with information on police buildings in other communities. They want to make sure the 15,000-square foot building isn't bigger than what is needed by the town.

Parking continues to be a conundrum in the design, as committee members asked to have the buildings easily accessible to the public but not cluttered up by a lot of visible parking.

Committee members said that while they don't mind if the new library has modern architecture, they'd like the police and town offices to be "more traditional" than what was shown them.

"I don't like the architecture that you're showing me for the rest of the buildings," council member Lewis said.

The committee plans to meet again on July 20 to firm up a conceptual plan to recommend to the City Council for approval, which will probably come at a special meeting in late July.

Once the council has approved the conceptual plan, the architects can make more refined drawings, which can be used to estimate construction costs.

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