Midpen board jump-starts office design process by approving $2 million contract with architects

Rendering courtesy of Noll & Tam Architects
A rendering designed by Noll & Tam Architects provides a vision of what the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s new administrative office at 5050 El Camino Real could look like. Believing that it has outgrown its 330 Distel Circle location, Midpen purchased the new site for $31 million.

Berkeley-based Noll & Tam Architects, the firm selected to head the design process for the city of Los Altos’ Hillview Community Center overhaul, is hard at work finalizing sketches for another local project – the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s new administrative office at 5050 El Camino Real in Los Altos.

At its last regular meeting, Midpen’s board of directors voted unanimously to increase Noll & Tam’s professional services contract from approximately $1.38 million to an estimated $1.97 million for work evaluating goals and vital elements for the new building, preparing multiple iterations of the design and developing a cost estimate for implementing the design.

When Noll & Tam staffers unveiled options for the new building last October, they presented the board with “baseline,” “enhanced” and “aspirational” plans. The board selected the “enhanced” plan, priced at approximately $21 million.

According to Midpen’s latest staff report on the project, the industry standard for architecture fees is 10-12% of the construction cost, putting the consultant’s fees for the project in the range of $2.1 million to $2.5 million.

“Noll & Tam’s consultant fee of (approximately $1.7 million) is below industry standard and consistent with the soft costs presented,” Midpen’s project manager Felipe Nistal wrote in his report, which led with the suggestion of a 15% contingency fee of roughly $206,000 for possible “unforeseen issues” to round the contract up to $1.9 million.

Seeing green

Approving Noll & Tam’s contract is the next step in the design process, enabling Midpen staffers to think beyond the spread-out office space they currently work out of in their 330 Distel Circle location, according to Midpen media spokeswoman Leigh Ann Gessner.

“We fill that building and then some,” Gessner said of the district’s home for the past 30 years. “(We are) even leasing extra office space in the building next door that is costing us $380,000 a year. Next year, they are raising rent 15% to about $437,000 a year. That’s one of the benefits of moving into the new building – we can house all of our employees and not pay additional rent.”

Midpen closed escrow on the “new” building at 5050 El Camino Real Feb. 1, spending approximately $31 million to secure the site. When considered alongside a projected $21 million for construction, $5 million for soft costs and escalation, and $2 million for Noll & Tam’s services, the district is looking at a total price tag of nearly $59 million.

The agency saw the need for a new office coming. After passage of Measure AA in 2014 – a $300 million open-space bond – hiring increased and staff realized that an evolution of their business structure should also mean an evolution of their physical structure.

“Midpen was created by voters in 1972, and in the early days it was primarily focused on preserving land while it was still available,” Gessner explained. “Since then, we’ve evolved to a more balanced delivery of our mission by focusing equally on preserving land, restoring land and then opening it for public access … that has led to the need for a little more space.”

Although Measure AA may have sped up the move, no bond funds will be spent on the new office.

“We have been setting general fund reserves aside for several years,” Gessner said, offering no total of how much had been saved.

Gessner noted that Midpen estimates it will be able to rent out approximately 25 percent of the new building, which will help recoup costs.

Walking the talk

Currently, 5050 El Camino Real is leased to several companies and needs to be reconfigured to house a public agency. For example, Gessner said, a meeting space must be created and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant entrances must be reinforced.

In addition to building a functional and welcoming headquarters expected to serve the organization for a minimum of 40 to 50 years, the Midpen board plans to incorporate public feedback to make the building as green as the practices the district preaches.

“There was a lot of discussion around the glass (at the last meeting),” Gessner said. “We are looking at a bird-safe glass. Because we are an environmental organization, we got a lot of public comment with concerns. ... The design currently has a lot of glass, and birds could fly into (the windows).”

The Noll & Tam team said in a May report that they are working with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society to ensure window glazing helps the birds see the glass and avoid collision.

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