New community center design scrutinized, but applauded by LA Planning Commission

Hillview Community Center
Rendering Courtesy of Noll & Tam Architects
A rendering shows a proposed option, left, in purple, for connecting the Los Altos main library to the future Hillview Community Center.

Design plans for the Hillview Community Center rebuild cleared another hurdle last week when the Los Altos Planning Commission recommended that the city council approve the environmental review and design review application for the project. The plans are due to next come before the council at its Sept. 11 meeting.

The project and its controversial $34.7 million price tag include razing the existing 30,362-square-foot facility and replacing it with a new 24,500-square-foot center, more than 5,800 square feet smaller. Included in the plans are 162 new parking spaces.

Commissioners’ feedback included an emphasis on better window quality and more natural building materials and less stucco, especially for the exterior walls facing the interior courtyard – the front of the new center faces San Antonio Road, with two wings extending behind it. They also preferred a standing seam metal roof to the proposed composition shingle roof.

But commissioners tempered their materials suggestions with an acknowledgment that such improvements could increase the project cost.

Cost has been among the most debated aspects of the project. The council at the end of last year signed off on the $34.7 million budget despite advice from city staff and the city’s Financial Commission not to commit more than $25 million, though staff acknowledged that the city could still handle a $30 million price tag while taking on some debt.

Janet Tam of Noll & Tam Architects noted that the project is at 90 percent design development completion “and Sept. 11, we’re going to be about 100 percent when we come to council.”

In the design, a pedestrian walkway directly connects the library and the front of the new center.

Emphasizing “multigenerational” uses, the center includes a senior center and a teen center, as well as multipurpose rooms.

In addition to allowing for parking spaces near the senior center, the plans include an estimated 80 slots for bike parking.

Addressing concerns

One major concern centered on a fire access lane that Commissioner Alex Samek said was not adequately addressed in the design plan, along with a potential conflict with the nearby Little League fields.

Commissioners also discussed sacrificing 11 parking spaces near the library in favor of more green space.

“Is it a higher priority to maintain the number of close-to-library parking spaces as opposed to maintaining the constant number but moving them farther away in favor of getting a more attractive, landscaped, less-paved area (as the connector between the library and the center)?” asked Phoebe Bressack, commission chairwoman.

Commissioner Ronit Bodner opted for green space.

“Prioritizing parking and cars over park and green space is a mistake and short-sighted,” she said. “I am a mom with three young kids. Don’t do it for me – we can walk.”

The item’s public hearing included feedback from Elisabeth Ward, executive director of the Los Altos History Museum, who voiced concerns about the museum’s drop-off area for catering and its corporation yard being impacted during the estimated two-year construction period. While she appreciated the plan’s increased exposure to the museum, she worried that the positioning of the new center could draw more attention to the museum’s “trash area.”

Stuart Klein, a member of the Hillview Community Center Project Task Force, emphasized the need for connectivity to the library. He noted that the “economic viability” of a cafe, planned for the front of the center, depends on that connectivity.

Although voicing several concerns and suggestions for improvement, commissioners appreciated the overall plan design.

“This is a great example of how things should work in our city,” Commissioner Sally Meadows said. “I think this is a beautiful plan, largely.”

“I appreciated that there was so much citizen input that went into this,” Bodner added. “The building is serving the function that was the sentiment of the community.”

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