The Menlo Park City Council last night gave the green light for Facebook to move forward with its plans to rebuild the complex at 100 Terminal Avenue into a multi-generational community center. The council voted 4-0, with Mayor Drew Combs recused, to grant final approval to the project.
Currently, the complex offers a fitness center, a senior center, the Onetta Harris Community Center, Kelly Park, a pool and a youth center. The new plan is to consolidate the indoor uses all into one building, with an added library and lots of flexible space, and increase the square footage overall by a little under 9%.
The city is responsible for rebuilding the pool, but is still ironing out the designs, according to staff. The council is expected to vote on final designs for the pool later this month.
Facebook has been in Menlo Park for 10 years now, said Fergus O'Shea, director of campus development at Facebook. "This really is an investment in the community," he said. "We're delighted to have the opportunity to build this."
Plans for the new community center have come together remarkably quickly, as far as development proposals go in Menlo Park, and especially given the pandemic-driven tumult of 2020. Facebook announced its offer to build the project in October 2019 and it was approved in a little over a year.
"This has been a really terrific, intensive and collaborative process," said project architect Eron Ashley of the architecture firm Hart Howerton, which has been working with Facebook to design the development.
While the current campus can feel a bit disjointed, the new community center is intended to draw people of all ages to use the different areas of the facility, with space for people to hang out in addition to pursue activities, Ashley explained.
There's a sound-protected teen area, a library, a maker space, a ground-floor children's library and terrace to offer easy stroller access, a gym. a movement studio for dance or yoga classes, a playground, a senior dining room, an outdoor dining and event space. The new center is set to have 164 parking spaces and about 20 bike parking spots, according to a staff report. Another plus is that it will connect more easily to Kelly Park, which is currently behind the community center and a bit hidden, he said.
With the project approved by the City Council, the project still has to be fully reviewed before permits are issued, and the existing facilities need to be closed and emptied before demolition. The plan is to have the project done and ready for a grand opening by the end of February 2023.
Facebook is contributing about $40 million contribution to the project, and the city plans to invest nearly $16 million in the project, as well, to add extra amenities, like replacing the old pool with a new one, adding emergency backup power so the site can be used as an evacuation center, putting utilities underground and building solar carports, a renewable energy microgrid and other sustainability features.
The council favors using existing Measure T general obligation bonds that were passed to improve recreation facilities on this project, and the Menlo Park Library Foundation has indicated it also plans to launch an ambitious fundraising campaign to raise $2 million to $3 million in donations.
People offered a few suggestions for the project.
Harry Bims, a Belle Haven resident, said he thought the city should start now to think about what kinds of programs should be offered at the new community center, getting residents' input and evaluating current trends with city programs and services. He added that he supported and applauded the effort to "create something special."
"They didn't have to do any of this," he said, referring to Facebook's offer.
Jacqui Cebrian, a complete streets commissioner and former library commissioner, recommended making the teen center larger – a bit of feedback she'd collected from other libraries in the region when the city was discussing the possibility of rebuilding the main Menlo Park library several years ago, after receiving an offer from John Arrillaga to fund the bulk of the effort.
In addition, Councilwoman Jen Wolosin said she'd like to see consideration for the community center to also offer coffee or snacks to encourage people to stay longer.
Councilman Ray Mueller noted that it's possible that, had the city moved forward with plans to rebuild the main library several years ago, it wouldn't have had the funds needed for this project. Ultimately, those plans didn't move forward because of a general consensus that the Belle Haven neighborhood needed to see library improvements more urgently than the rest of the city, and with that priority set, the offer eventually was rescinded. "It was a decision about equity then that we're seeing the fruits of today," Mueller said.
"It's amazing to see this come to fruition," said Vice Mayor Betsy Nash. "It'll be even more exciting when it's built."