Facebook announces plan to fund new Belle Haven Library and community center


Facebook officials introduced plans to fully fund a "state-of-the-art" community center in Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood during a community meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

During the Belle Haven Neighborhood Association meeting, officials from the Menlo Park-based tech company introduced a plan to fund the construction of a multi-story community center that would house the library, senior center and youth center, as well as a gym and multipurpose room, said John Tenanes, Facebook's vice president of global facilities and real estate. The Onetta Harris Community Center and Belle Haven youth and senior centers are currently located in a cluster of buildings on Terminal Avenue, while the library is on Ivy Drive.

"I think it's a beautiful idea and proposal and I think it's something that will certainly revitalize this side of Menlo Park," said Rose Bickerstaff, who is part of the neighborhood association's leadership team. "The community has long been underserved."

In April, Menlo Park's draft park and recreation facilities master plan recommended changes such as a new Belle Haven community center. One of the recommendations in the draft is to revitalize the Onetta Harris Community Center and other buildings on the property, including the youth and senior centers. The Onetta Harris center and the Belle Haven Youth Center buildings were recently evaluated to be "at the end of their productive life" and need to be substantially renovated or rebuilt, according to the draft plan.

In June, the Menlo Park City Council approved a $160,000 contract to develop concept designs for a new Belle Haven Library since the current library "is widely regarded as inadequate to meet community needs," according to city staff. The firm, Noll & Tam Architects, will also analyze potential site options and come up with preliminary cost estimates for a new library.

Facebook’s intent is to build a space to cover all of the library's programs, but the city will decide what happens with the existing space, a Facebook spokesperson said.

"We are neighbors and this is one of the most important ways we can help community build a place to bring the community together," according to a prepared statement from Facebook. "We believe this effort will strengthen the social fabric of our neighborhood for decades to come."

Tenanes said Facebook has a sense of the cost of such a project, but that the company would like to gather community feedback before sharing that information. Over the next month, the company will gather input from the city and community on the project's design, said Maya Perkins, strategic initiatives manager at Facebook.

Facebook has not set a timeline for the project, but it could present the offer to the Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 15, Tenanes said. At that point the company will have a more detailed presentation on how it plans to proceed with the project, he said.

In an Oct. 3 email, Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller lauded the tech company's proposal.

"Facebook's proposal, to wholly fund the building of a new state of the art community center and library in Belle Haven, represents a significant and impactful investment in the quality of life of Menlo Park residents, and significantly District 1 residents," he said. "It would be insincere for me to pretend it isn't the type of project that fosters appreciable trust from the community in Facebook's long-term commitment to its neighbors and the City of Menlo Park."

Mueller added that the community center plan is not tied to the Willow Village project, Facebook's proposal to build 1.75 million square feet of office space, 1,500 housing units, up to 200,000 square feet of retail space, and a hotel with 200 to 250 rooms on a 60-acre parcel.


Sign up for Almanac Express to get news updates. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or show your support for local journalism by subscribing.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


4 people like this
Posted by suburban park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 4, 2019 at 12:41 pm

suburban park resident is a registered user.

I generally disapprove of the consistent exceptions Facebook expansion gets relative to local homeowners and the worsening traffic, however this seems like a great contribution to the surrounding community. I hope some of our more vocal residents can appreciate this and avoid looking a gift horse in the mouth like they did the Bohannan offer to fund a new main library.

Like this comment
Posted by sie
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 4, 2019 at 12:53 pm

sie is a registered user.

The story contains an error. Rose Bickerstaff is not president of the neighborhood association; Rachel Bickerstaff is the president.

10 people like this
Posted by Belle Haven Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 4, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Belle Haven Resident is a registered user.

It wasn't David Bohannon who offered to fund a rebuild of the main library; it was John Arrilaga through one of the Arrilaga foundations. One reason that Menlo Park refused the offer was that he refused to let any of the funds be used to build a library in and for Belle Haven.

5 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 4, 2019 at 6:05 pm

This is a smart move on the part of Facebook for community PR. With the possible exception of improvements to the elementary school, it's the most obvious service to make life better for residents. The problem with the offer to replace the main library was that there wasn't much of a pressing need to upgrade it, and it would pull money away from a new Belle Haven library. This project has no such issues.

You can look for strings attached; as far as I can tell, Facebook is probably doing this to get people to support Willow Village. The main concern about Willow Village is traffic. I see no downside to a new library/community/senior/fitness center in and of itself. The city needs to have a plan to deal with traffic before Willow Village goes in; that helps everyone, residents and Facebook alike. As long as people remain clear about that, a new community is a great and welcome gift.

6 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 4, 2019 at 10:00 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

To clarify, Arrilaga's offer required the public to first pay what turned out to be $30 million, including soft costs. So he did not offer to pay the full costs but only the amount after $30 million.

As the Main Library had been updated multiple times, the public rightly saw the greater need in Belle Haven and objected to the continued improvement of public facilities at Burgess Park while those in District 1 were noticably inferior. They also objected to the way the offer required a major shift in agreed-upon Staff and Council priorities. Other key projects would then be delayed. Some called for a Gift Acceptance Policy, which is still needed.

In short, the public did not see a new Main Library as a priority. A City designed, and conducted by Godbe Research, 2017 City Satisfaction opinion poll showed inadequate support for a bond measure to pay for the public-funded costs. This was despite the survey's biased and leading questions designed to generate support.

Outspoken residents were a necessary part of the process to get the City to start to address the blatant inequality in City services in District 1.

Facebook's offer is to pay for the entire amount and for an established public need. I consider the offer generous and timely. However, I hope that our City most considers the opinions of those living in District 1. Should the project move forward, those residents should be deeply involved in the process.

4 people like this
Posted by correction
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 4, 2019 at 11:34 pm

Lynne Bramlett writes, "Arrilaga's offer required the public to first pay what turned out to be $30 million, including soft costs."

This is a false statement. John Arrillaga offered for pay for all construction costs once the city put in only $20 million. The soft costs are something the city later identified, NOT A REQUIREMENT FROM ARRILLAGA for thinks like furniture, bookshelves, and everything that goes into furnishing a new library.

2 people like this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 5, 2019 at 12:10 am

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

I disagree with Other's characterization of my statement of the public's need to pay $30 million as a false statement. The record is more nuanced. Further, Other also supports my point that residents would need to pay the $30 million, which the donor could have picked up as part of his offer.

Other, I suggest that you be more careful in your statements. Further, I have a strong hunch as to who you are.

1 person likes this
Posted by suburban park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 5, 2019 at 7:28 am

suburban park resident is a registered user.

Sorry wrong donor named... I stand corrected. But have any of you actually been to and inside the Belle Haven library? Although smaller it’s actually much cleaner and nicer than the main library. So I guess I just don’t agree with those who demanded Arrilaga pay for a belle haven library update. My point is that I hope people can graciously donations when they’re offered to the community.

1 person likes this
Posted by Question
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 5, 2019 at 7:55 am

Question is a registered user.

if a friend gave you a new car for your birthday, do you refuse it and say you will only accept it if they pay for new furniture for your house?

5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 5, 2019 at 9:13 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


That's a false comparison. Arrillaga's offer was more like someone offering to give you a car, but you had to buy the interior seats, dash, etc. and put in the drive train. That's not an offer I'd accept.

5 people like this
Posted by Belle Haven Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 5, 2019 at 7:53 pm

Belle Haven Resident is a registered user.

Hi, Suburban Park. I live a block from the Belle Haven Library and have been to it many times. It is not a full service library. It is a very good but small school library, closed to the general public during school hours. Because of its location and primary function, neither its facilities nor its hours can be expanded adequately to meet community needs. The community has been saying this to the city consistently for decades. The city has done its best to upgrade the small facility but we need more.

Like this comment
Posted by a real opportunity
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 10, 2019 at 4:50 am

a real opportunity is a registered user.

Thank you Facebook, while not a predicate to build the Village which I also strongly support,

I would suggest however everyone take the time to see for themselves the dicrepit condition of the Belle Haven school. something could be worked out with the city, FB and Arriaga to remodel or build new a nice, modern stem school, for all grades k-8 while discussing the Village, It could be the envy of schools for miles around. and I don't care who puts their name on it, Call it a collaberation.

I know the school belongs to Ravenswood, but there must be a deal that could be struck to make everyone happy,.

There was a report done a few years ago about the condition of Belle Haven School, I suggest everyone read it you will be shocked. It's only gotten worse,

Eventually FB employees will be having families and I'm sure would love to send their kids to a modern new campus,

Call the Ravenswood School Administration for a copy of the report with costs,

This is a chance to build state of the art and also to integrate all kinds of different ethnic backgrounds, w/ an after school day school program, w/ some expectations of interning and eventually working at FB

My kids used to tutor at Belle Haven School it was one of the things in their busy lives they were most proud of.

My kids are grown and out living their lives but the school is still looking for tutors.

Belle Haven could go from the place that nobody paid attention to become the place to be especially with the village, community center , library, and hopefully a new school, Perhaps if funds could be found Arriaga could do a rough estimate to get started.

Let's face it folks their trying to learn in old fallen down trailers with buckets when it rains and no heat,

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Gluten-free bakery Misfits Bakehouse is reborn in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 2,717 views

What to do with all those cardboard boxes
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 2,212 views

Premarital and Couples: The "Right" Way to Eat an Artichoke
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,683 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 6 comments | 1,077 views

Menlo Park Can Learn A Lot from Palo Alto (Part 1)
By Dana Hendrickson | 3 comments | 827 views


Race Results Are In

Thank you for joining us at the 35th annual Moonlight Run & Walk! All proceeds benefit the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday fund, supporting local nonprofits serving children and families.

Click for Race Results