The Facebook-funded proposal to build a new community center in Belle Haven moved forward Tuesday night, when the Menlo Park City Council approved a term sheet, concept design and timeline to review the project.
Council members voted 4-0, in favor of those next steps, with Vice Mayor Drew Combs recused because he works at Facebook.
The term sheet laid out 10 potential additional features or projects that the city could choose to fund at the site beyond what is entailed in Facebook's offer: a new swimming pool, an upgrade to the building to make it a Red Cross Evacuation Center, emergency backup power, solar carports, LEED Platinum certification or a microgrid.
The city could also act to put utilities underground, deconstruct the existing buildings instead of demolishing them, replace the water main and add a recycled water main extension for the site in the future.
In all, early estimates indicate that it would cost about $7.4 million to build a new pool and $3 million to $4 million to fund the rest, with the exception of the water main replacement, which has already been funded. The value of Facebook's offer is about $40 million, according to a staff report.
The proposed new community center would replace the current complex of structures at 100 to 110 Terminal Ave. in Belle Haven, including the senior center, youth center and Onetta Harris Community Center. In the place of those structures, Facebook has proposed to build a two-story community campus building providing new youth facilities, a senior center, health and fitness facilities, a library area, locker rooms, improved parking and a breezeway within the structure to improve access to Kelly Park.
In the new community center, the areas for each facility will be at least as large if not larger than they currently are, according to Eron Ashley, project architect and principal at the architecture firm Hart Howerton. The senior dining room, for instance, will be 50% bigger, he said.
In community feedback collected before the pandemic precluded large gatherings, Ashley said the architects received specific and useful input from residents that was used to shape the plans.
But the proposal's size is not so much bigger that it would require a new review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which streamlines the development process, Ashley noted.
Councilwoman Catherine Carlton added that she wanted the proposal to include covered, protected bike parking facilities.
The concept plan the council approved Tuesday proposes to build on the space where the current pool area is located.
A potential funder for a new pool has stepped up, according to Councilman Ray Mueller. John Tarlton, a developer in Menlo Park's Bayside life sciences area, is interested in supporting a new pool as a community amenity – one of any number of pre-approved benefits a developer must provide to the community in exchange for being allowed greater development permissions than would otherwise be allowed in Menlo Park. A new community pool isn't currently on that list, but the council agreed to consider adding it to the list in the future. If the city relies on a pool to be built as a community amenity, its construction could be delayed until after the rest of the new community center is built, Deputy City Manager Justin Murphy told the council.
The council has to decide within the next month if it will go forward with building a new pool, according to Murphy. It was expected to consider the matter in October.
Other ways to fund the extra items include drawing upon Measure T recreation bonds that voters approved in 2001. So far, $24 million of those bonds have been spent, but about $14 million remain, according to staff. To access those funds, the council would have to, by January 2021, authorize increasing the amount property owners currently pay from $65 per $1 million of assessed value to $110 per $1 million of assessed value through 2040, staff said. The city could also draw upon unassigned general funds, currently estimated around $2 million.
In a separate discussion earlier in the evening about the city's contract with its third-party pool operator, Team Sheeper, Inc., the council noted that somewhat less than half of current pool users are not Menlo Park residents. Councilmember Betsy Nash said she'd like to see more residents use the pool and asked staff to develop some ideas for how to encourage them to do so.
Often, Community Services Director Sean Reinhart noted, cities incentivize residents to use city-specific services by setting different price rates for residents versus non-residents. Since the pools reopened after the pandemic-related closures, it costs $10 regardless of resident status to reserve a lane, Nash said. Reservations are for 45 minutes, according to the pool information website.
The community center proposal will be going through a series of review steps in the upcoming months. On Oct. 5, the Planning Commission is scheduled to evaluate it in a study session, then on Oct. 13 and 27, the council is scheduled to iron out which of the city-funded additional features to pursue and what services will be offered during the project's construction, respectively.
The project will then go before the Planning Commission on Dec. 7 for a public hearing and then the City Council on Jan. 12 for another public hearing and additional determinations. On that timeline, the current facility could be shut down by June, with demolition work starting in July and August. From there, the new facility would be expected to open in spring 2023.
Go to menlopark.org/communitycampus for more information.