Mountain View Voice

News - April 27, 2012

Community Center: rehab or redevelop?

by Daniel DeBolt

Citing tight finances and the virtues of recycling, on Tuesday City Council members expressed interest in renovating the city's 1960s-era Community Center instead of building a new one.

"The greenest thing we could do is reuse a building rather than tear it down," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Who knows what creative things could be done to make the space useable in a better way."

City staff said they would look into the option, which several council members hoped would be cheaper than the $53 million estimated cost of a new, 50-percent larger Community Center, a project in the works for over a decade and stymied by budget problems.

The discussion occurred during a study session on a new Master Plan for Rengstorff Park, which has been scaled back to avoid the potential $139 million cost of revamping the park, as shown in possible designs presented last year. Council members expressed interest in a scenario that kept the Aquatics Center and Community Center in their current locations but expands their size, and would require $3 million in temporary buildings if they are to be redeveloped where they sit.

Several council members, including Mayor Mike Kasperzak, had just finished touring the Sustainability Base at NASA Ames Research Center, touted as the greenest building around, and cited it as inspiration.

Using the "existing facility, we would get a lot of points for reuse," Kasperzak said, alluding to rating systems for green buildings. "Take a 50-year-old building make it last 100 years. Doll it up and see what we can do in a cost effective manner."

Bryant suggested adding a green roof to the building and extending a pavilion towards the street. "I'd like to do something exciting and innovative like that rather than build another building." She added that it was a matter of "finding the right person to think through this."

Council members Margaret Abe-Koga and Jac Siegel also expressed interest in refurbishing the center, but Siegel also added that "a remodel can cost a lot more per square foot than construction."

"If we stay with the existing structure it will be limiting as to what we can do," said Council member Tom Means. Having toured new community centers elsewhere, "it's pretty impressive to see what you can do these days and how they are designed," Means said.

Mayor Kasperzak said the city needs to use the new Senior Center on the other side of the park more heavily instead of closing it at night, a time when it could be used for classes taught at the Community Center.

"Space shouldn't be sitting vacant when we're talking about spending very limited resources to build new space," Kasperzak said.

There's also going to be a new Teen Center at near the park at Rock Church, which could lessen the need for a large Community Center.

A few council members expressed interest in building a new aquatics facility at Rengstorff Park first. City staff estimated the cost at $15 million.

"That's where our money should go," said council member Laura Macias. "It seems a little sad when you compare it to Eagle Park pool."

The focus should also be on making the park as nice as Cuesta Park, she said.

City staff proposed moving a small building for park rangers into a piece of open space near the picnic areas where people have often complained about gang members hanging out. Council member Macias objected to impinging on the park's open space.

"I don't think its location is very visible if we're going to have live human resources monitoring what's going on in the park," Means said of the current location.

Bryant opposed the idea of adding any parking, saying that people should be encouraged by the design to bike and walk. Adding an underground parking garage to the Community Center for 60 parking spaces could cost $4 million. Siegel suggested closing Crisanto Avenue on the northern edge of the park and building a parking structure in its place against the train tracks, providing a noise buffer that would not encroach on the park's open space.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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