Atherton reduces size of planned civic center

The budget for the project has been cut by at least $2 million

After Atherton's City Council asked for the design of its new civic center to be cut by 1,600 square feet and the budget by $1.8 million, architects WRNS Studio and town staff responded by shrinking the buildings by 3,200 square feet, the council learned July 20.

City Engineer Mary Grace Houlihan said the size reduction should also shave between $2 million and $2.5 million from the cost of the complex, which will include a library, administrative offices, police headquarters and council chambers that double as an emergency operations center.

The reduction in size, from the 20,340-square-foot total that had been in the approved schematic design, also saved a large oak tree that had been slated for removal.

Ms. Houlihan said she and the architects have been meeting with town employees "to understand how their jobs work." The plan clusters workspaces for people who work together and consolidates as many functions as possible, but builds in flexibility for future growth, she said.

The largest office in the plan is that of the city manager at 227 square feet, with that of the police chief close behind at 218 square feet. The seating capacity of the council chambers has been reduced from 80 seats to 40, although Ms. Houlihan said more chairs might be squeezed in.

The council chambers will double as an emergency operations center because that option proved less expensive than trying to incorporate an emergency operations center into the police department.

By September, consultants should have a budget for the new design to present to the council, Ms. Houlihan said.

The design team is also working on figuring out how the town will continue to operate when construction begins. One possibility, she said, is that the police department could continue to use its offices while administration, planning and library activities move into the Gilmore House and the main house in Holbrook-Palmer Park. The town is also exploring borrowing or buying bookmobiles.

"We have a lot of things still to work out," Ms. Houlihan said.

One of the things that is yet to be worked out is how the project will be paid for. In its monthly report to the council, dated July 1, Atherton Now, the nonprofit working to raise $25 million to pay for much of the project, said it has raised $5.6 million from 50 donors.

Council members have said they will give Atherton Now until the end of the year to come up with the money.

If the donations do not materialize, the town will have to return to the voters to find a way around the 2012 measure that requires the town to build the civic center primarily with private donations. The measure also allows using building fees or grants, but not general fund or parcel tax money.

The library project is already funded and could be built before the rest of the civic center.

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5 people like this
Posted by OMG
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 26, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Are you kidding me? Is there any question a new town center is needed? Build it already. This has gone on for 20+ years. If you continue to wait the costs will continue to increase and the floor space will decrease. Was there full funding of the existing buildings when they were built 50-75 years ago? I doubt it. Stop this insanity, we do not need more analysis, portable buildings. The architects will make revisions until the town runs out of money. JUST BUILD IT!

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Posted by Donor
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Did cost cutting drive the decision to reduce square footage? Does this mean the city will bring in trailers and storage pods to make up for the loss after the building is finished? If we're going to build this facility, we should not make short sighted decisions about space.

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Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 26, 2016 at 6:27 pm

Measure L passed with an overwhelming majority. It says the town center money has to come from private funds primarily. It can't come from bonds nor taxes.

I agree a new town center is desperately needed. My suggestion is that the city council should have a town hall event if fundraising is coming up short. Give the citizens an update on where things stand. After understanding the details and funding situation, hear what residents have to say and what direction they want to go. I would expect that each year we keep our old town center in place means another year of higher energy bills and maintenance costs. It may make more sense to amend Measure L by allowing up to $15 million to publicly fund a new town center, for example.

Athertonians have been willing to approve higher taxes when a need exists. The parcel tax is the best example. The council has credibility to present this case and be trusted. They have been fiscally prudent and improved government transparency the last few years. The drama that used to exist is gone.

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 26, 2016 at 6:31 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

I don't think private funding is coming in because the civic center is primarily for staff. Athertonians couldn't care less about "staff." Any idea what they pay theirs or how they treat them? Yep, "we're not putting out a nickel more than we have to for staff. <snort>"

2 people like this
Posted by Makes perfect sense
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 26, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Yeessss,cut down on the size of the council chambers so residents coming to council meetings are very limited, but keep the Olympic size and quality gymnasium for the cops. At first I didn't quite understand the logic of this, but then it dawned on me. When the police-bought and controlled candidates Lewis and Wiest vote another huge raise for these guys, and raise our taxes to pay for it, residents who might complain won't be able to fit in the chambers room, and the window of the gym will be strategically located so they can see some of the cops throwing weights around. Will likely scare them off. I never should have underestimated the strategic brilliance of Elizabeth Lewis!!! But why stop there.. cut the library to 200 square feet and make the gym even bigger, or perhaps an indoor pool or massage center. Invite the sheriff.

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 26, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

makes perfect sense:

thank you for confirming my post

10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 26, 2016 at 11:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town Council has made a serious effort to obtain private funding for a new Town Center and has failed. They did what we asked them to do.

Now let's put a bond measure on the ballot and build a Town Center that we can all be proud of.

I am tired of living in an affluent community that keeps banging a tin cup.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm

YEAH! It is sad that Caltrans was so slow, but great for Atherton to proceed.

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Posted by Concerned
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2016 at 3:41 pm

While "Makes Perfect Sense" is being a bit snarky, an important point is brought up by Peter Carpenter's comment.

The Town of Atherton solicited public input into the design of the proposed town center under all of the assumptions of Measure L: that it would be paid for by private donations. It is reasonable to assume that many members of the public who would have had things to say about it if they were going to be paying for it through a bond measure didn't bother to get involved.

I think many members of the public might want to take a look at the design, and whether it is overblown (or not), under the full disclosure that they are footing the bill. The gym "Makes Perfect Sense" refers to may or may not pass such scrutiny, along with other aspects of the design. 24 Hour Fitness memberships are pretty cheap on a monthly basis, and our police officers are already extremely well paid. Perhaps the gym should be open to all residents.

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

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