Almanac

News - October 19, 2011

Atherton residents get peek at conceptual designs for new Town Center facilities

by Renee Batti

Two architectural firms that had viewed, walked and studied Atherton's Town Center site and aged facilities over the past few months presented their visions for what the civic heart of town could look like during an Oct. 12 community meeting.

The firms' conceptual designs, which the public can view through Dec. 14 in the City Council Chambers, had a number of elements in common, such as sustainable "green" features, an emphasis on open-air public spaces, and a plan to make the site's first view to the public much more appealing.

But concepts for placement and design of buildings to house the administrative offices and the police station varied significantly. Siegel & Strain Architects, the firm that built Portola Valley's Town Center, offered up a design that included two one-story buildings totaling about 12,000 square feet of space, with an uncovered walkway in between, according to architect Henry Siegel. The design singled out the majestic oak tree in front of the current administrative building, which also houses the police station, as the centerpiece of the redesigned civic center.

Nichols Melburg & Rossetto presented a design that included two, two-story buildings connected by an arched loggia and including a community center with a rooftop terrace. The buildings would total about 20,000 square feet, according to architect Les Melburg.

The designs were the result of a competition launched by the Atherton Town Center Task Force, made up of volunteers studying options for building a new civic center. The competition, which offered no payment for the designs, attracted two firms whose principals agreed to imagine the possibilities for the site.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, who chaired the task force, said the group had determined that it was best to construct new buildings rather than renovate the old — except for the historic building now serving as the City Council Chambers and, on the southern end, the public library. The task force also established ground rules that no trees would be removed, the design would be sensitive to the neighborhood, and that town staff could continue to work in the center during construction of new buildings.

A key question: How will the town pay for a new civic center? Ms. Lewis said task force members agreed that funding would be raised through private donations, noting that Portola Valley residents contributed $17 million toward the town's $20 million civic center.

"I think if Portola Valley can do it, Atherton residents can do it, too," Ms. Lewis said.

The task force last year had projected a cost of $10 million to $12 million for a new center, she said.

Both architectural firms have designed multiple civic projects in Northern California. An unusual feature of their work for Atherton was that they had to come up with their concepts with no input from the community. Principals for both firms emphasized that, if chosen to design Town Center, they would seek out community input as a preliminary step.

The task force has developed a matrix with which members will evaluate both designs. At the suggestion of a resident at the meeting, Ms. Lewis said the matrix may be made available for the public to rate the work as they review the designs in the City Council Chambers.

INFORMATION

• Visit www.ci.atherton.ca.us. Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis said the designs will soon be available to view on the town's website.

• The firms' conceptual designs are expected to be on view in the City Council Chambers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday though Friday, through Dec. 14. The council chambers are on Ashfield Road near Dinkelspiel Station Lane in Atherton.

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