Community center plan taking shape after task force direction

Rendering Courtesy of Noll & Tam Architects
The majority of members on the Hillview Community Center Project Task Force favor an architectural style that features a peaked roof.

Members of the Hillview Community Center Project Task Force last week agreed on a general floor plan and architectural design for rebuilding the center.

Presented with three options by the Berkeley-based Noll & Tam Architects, the task force Nov. 7 selected the “Concept C” floor plan, described as having a triangular layout, basically in the same location as the current dilapidated center. Members also chose a peaked-roof architectural style.

The floor plan offers outdoor event space between two wings. The front features a large lobby, a cafe, administrative offices, rest- rooms and a dedicated space for seniors.

Plans also include a large community room, kitchen, “kinder” space, teen space, arts and crafts area, meeting and exercise rooms, and multipurpose rooms. A large, penciled-in space for Children’s Corner preschool is located in the south wing, adjacent to the kinder space.

Allotted square footage at the new center for seniors, teens and other uses has not yet been decided, said Manny Hernandez, the city’s recreation and community services director.

“There are still decisions that need to be made by the city council that will affect those numbers,” he said. “I would expect getting an idea of the square footage later in December.”

Task force members identified strengths and weaknesses in all three floor-plan options.

Maria Bautista said there was “welcoming space” facing San Antonio Road but not facing Hillview Avenue, while Stuart Klein wanted more “connectivity” with the busy Los Altos main library.

Even with support for Concept C, task force member Cathy Lazarus wondered about visitors having to venture outside to access classrooms instead of reaching them through an indoor lobby.

Noll & Tam representatives accepted the task force’s feedback with a promise to return to the Nov. 30 meeting with amended designs reflecting the input.

The Nov. 30 meeting is the final scheduled meeting of the task force, which has been convening regularly since June.

Unfinished business

Task force members wondered how the project would take shape after their final meeting.

Bautista noted that their “tenure falls short of the conceptual phase (of the project),” suggesting unfinished business.

“What concerns me is, what happens next?” said task force member Susan Mensinger.

Mensinger said the city should continue to seek public input, right down to such details as the selection of furniture.

“How do you make it a welcoming space?” she asked, referring to the end goal.

Klein suggested that the city consider appointing a mini task force of sorts during the project’s design development phase to keep a channel open for residents’ input.

“The next challenge is to maintain that momentum,” he said, involving staff, the architect and residents, as occurred during the conceptual phase.

The design development phase, Klein added, is “where the rubber hits the road.”

Don’t forget teens

After receiving vocal input from seniors who wanted more dedicated space at the center, the task force last week heard from a contingent of teens and their parents lobbying for teen space.

“Los Altos teens deserve better,” said one young speaker. “We need a safe and fun environment.”

Some speakers dismissed the city’s current teen center at Shoup Park, The Underground, as inadequate and not in the ideal location. Downtown spots such as Skateworks, Area 151 and the Safeway market patio area have become teen hangouts.

“Ninety percent (of teens I talked with) didn’t even know there was a teen center,” said Jason Strubing of Skateworks. “I urge you to bring the teen center over here as part of the community center because they are part of the community.”

Budget questions

Task force members openly wondered what kind of budget they were working with. At a Sept. 26 study session, the Los Altos City Council added $7.7 million to the $25 million budget, including $3 million for increasing building square footage. But discussion among task force members suggested that the budget had since been decreased.

Assistant City Manager J. Logan told the task force that the city council would decide on a budget number during discussions Tuesday on a 10-year capital improvement plan. That meeting took place after the Town Crier’s Monday press deadline.

A staff report for Tuesday’s meeting suggested an “updated budget” of $30 million for the community center, with $1.5 million for increased square footage.

Children’s Corner

Still unknown is the process for including Children’s Corner preschool at the new center. City Manager Chris Jordan said councilmembers are scheduled at their Nov. 28 meeting to discuss and possibly approve a new 20-year lease for the preschool.

Jordan said current estimates indicate that it would cost an additional $2.5 million in construction expenses to accommodate the preschool.

School officials may put as much as $1.2 million up-front, Jordan said, leaving the city covering the $1.3 million difference. But Jordan noted that the preschool could be paying the city $200,000 annually to operate at the new center, repaying the construction costs over time.

Opponents worry about the city funding dedicated space for what they consider a private school, even though the school functions as a nonprofit entity.

Resident Nancy Phillips told the task force she was concerned the city hasn’t opened the child care option at Hillview to a competitive bidding process.

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