Almanac

News - March 26, 2014

Plans rev up for new $32 million Town Center

by Renee Batti

Will Atherton residents be willing to contribute nearly $20 million toward a new Town Center to replace the decrepit buildings that now house town services, the police department and the library? Community leaders helping to plan the center — which is projected to cost close to $32 million — intend to find out as the plan moves into its design phase.

The City Council on March 19 endorsed the project's master plan, crafted over several years of advisory committee meetings and a series of neighborhood meetings.

The plan calls for a complete redesign of the existing Town Center area bounded by Fair Oaks Lane, Ashfield Road, Maple Street and the train tracks. It includes a 25,500-square-foot, two-story administration building, more than half of which will house the police department; a 9,000-square-foot library; 37,000 square feet of parking areas; and a large open-space "town green" between the administration building and the library.

The estimated project cost is nearly $31.8 million: about $21.9 million for the administration building and about $9.8 million for the library. Those figures include costs that cover associated elements such as required environmental studies, infrastructure, and common space throughout the center.

Special funds will be tapped to pay for $12 million of those costs: $9.8 million in the library fund, which is expected to have accumulated that amount by the time construction is in progress; and $2.2 million in building department reserves. Money in those funds must be spent on projects related to those services.

The town will seek private contributions for the remaining funds.

Members of a resident advisory committee appointed by the City Council last year, the Civic Center Advisory Committee (CCAC), are "comfortable with a fundraising range of $20 (million) to $25 million," according to a report from City Manager George Rodericks. "This amount is comparable to similar, privately funded civic projects in the area," he wrote.

One such project was successfully completed in 2008 in Portola Valley. Some $17 million in private funds were raised for the $20 million Town Center project.

Atherton appointed a small citizens' task force several years ago to begin looking into a Town Center renovation plan. Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, who led the task force, said in 2010 that members believed residents would be willing to open their wallets to cover most of the costs. "I think if Portola Valley can do it, so can Atherton," she said.

Town and library services are now delivered out of cramped quarters that, in some cases, don't meet seismic standards and need major upgrades to meet code standards. The planning and building divisions have operated since the 1990s out of "temporary" quarters — portable buildings near the administration building and police station.

Voters in 2012 approved Measure L, which endorsed the building of a new Town Center, now being referred to as a civic center, using primarily private funds.

In addition to approving the civic center master plan and cost estimates, the council also authorized the city manager to initiate an environmental review process, and begin preparations for the project's design phase.

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