By Rick DeGolia | Atherton councilman
In 2013, Atherton launched a resident-driven process to build a new civic center to address the urgent need for better library, administration and police facilities on the land next to the train station that currently feels like a parking lot. Over the past 20 years, attempts to replace Atherton's facilities have failed three times, largely due to lack of funding.
Before I was elected to the City Council, I had no idea that Atherton's facilities are falling apart and beyond repair. Our one-room library is a modified 1928 residence with a charming, small-town feel, but it doesn't begin to offer what modern libraries provide today. The police and administration facilities were built in the 1950s and added to over time, with seven "temporary" trailers that are rotting, leaking and incredibly inefficient. For example, male and female officers and anyone in custody share the same restroom. You can see how deplorable these facilities are at tinyurl.com/ATCVideo15.
Thankfully, these conditions are about to change. Atherton has hired nationally acclaimed, San Francisco-based architects, WRNS Studio, to design new facilities and to restructure the 4.5-acre parcel that runs from Fair Oaks Lane to Maple Avenue along the train tracks. The council has approved a conceptual design that will be broadly shared in a series of community meetings early next year. The key features of the proposed civic center will include:
● A new library-tech center that will enable us to access books and digital resources, train students to program over our new fiber network, and host art shows, book clubs and other programs to build our community and celebrate our history.
● A modern police facility with state-of-the-art communication systems, a secure armory, and tools to train and manage our community police force.
● An attractive, safe administration building and council chambers to offer postal and other services and facilitate town governance.
● New amenities for our community, from a cafe to a pedestrian-friendly town green that is attractive, but understated, and that represents Atherton.
Imagine a civic center with a cafe where you can meet a friend for coffee. Or council chambers that could be used for music, media presentations and more. And reading or conference rooms in the library, each featuring an Atherton legend such as Willie Mays, Gertrude Atherton or Joe Montana.
What most excites me about this project is that we have the opportunity to define a sense of place for our town that will serve our residents and our staff for generations to come. This is critical to helping Atherton hire and retain high-quality staff. The community we create today will be the one our children and grandchildren remember.
This is the largest and most important project in Atherton's history. With this project we have the opportunity to design and build something that we can all be proud of, both in terms of its appearance and its function.
One of my personal goals is to make this the first Zero Net Energy civic center in California. Beginning in 2020, the state is requiring every new residence to be ZNE. Atherton can break new ground and be a model for both our residents and other municipalities.
The total estimated cost for this project is $42.9 million. With $13.4 million of library tax dollars for the library, as well as some development fees, private gifts and pledges, we are nearly halfway to our goal. (In 2012, Atherton residents approved Measure L, which required the town to build the civic center primarily with private funds. This is why we are not pursuing a bond measure.
Now that we are about to get schematic drawings of the civic center buildings, the fundraising is beginning in earnest. Atherton Now has been established to spearhead the fundraising. We need to raise slightly more than $20 million between now and when we begin construction in spring 2017. Raising these funds will not be easy, but Portola Valley did it for its civic center, and we can do it. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org to help out.
This is truly a great opportunity. What I ask is that each Atherton resident get involved. To make this happen, we need help with marketing and outreach at every level. This will be a tremendous coming together, but it needs your participation.