The Palo Alto City Council kicked off a community discussion on the fate of Cubberley Community Center Monday when members backed a set of principles to guide the talks.
The principles will also be considered by the Board of Education as the two bodies contemplate a future of possibly joint use of the 35-acre site, most of which is owned by the school district.
In the decades since Cubberley High School closed in 1979 due to falling enrollment, the school district has rented the campus to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center, garnering about $7 million a year in lease revenue for schools.
That lease is up for renewal in 2014 but, this time, school officials have indicated they may need to take back at least part of the campus because of rising school enrollment, particularly in the southern part of town.
A San Francisco architect has drawn several "conceptual plans" for a future Cubberley, several of them showing shared use between schools and community groups.
Officials stressed those sketches are nothing more than informal concepts to see whether multiple interests could be accommodated in the 35-acre space, eight acres of which is owned by the city.
Nonetheless, members couldn't resist commenting on them.
Council member Karen Holman said she didn't understand why none of the conceptual plans included the kind of green quad typical on many campuses. After the recent closure of Palo Alto Bowl, planners should consider adding a bowling alley, she said.
Council member Greg Schmid said the site maps are "very exciting because they do give the true notion of a joint use.
"Another striking factor is that everything's new. It's hard to think of that campus without the existing buildings, and this shows us we're completely open and free to do what we could do. I like the notion of exploring shared uses of that site," Schmid said.
Resident Bob Moss cautioned that shared use is problematic because schools generally don't permit unknown adults to enter their grounds during school hours.
He suggested adding an additional principle to the effect that, whatever city facilities are located on the site, they should be publicly accessible at all hours, regardless of school activities.
"I don't want to see a joint use of Cubberley that, over time, significantly reduces public access to the city's land," Moss said.
"I have no problem with sharing, as long as it's thoughtful -- a fence or something would be OK."
The guiding principles and concept plans will be discussed Friday in a meeting of a Cubberley "policy advisory committee" consisting of three City Council members and two school board members. The Cubberley discussion also will be augmented by a "community advisory committee" consisting of representatives of more than 20 community groups.
In other business Monday, the council voted to revise some of the assumptions used to calculate the city's health-care obligations to retired employees, thereby somewhat reducing the projected liability. The 7-1 approval came over the objections of Council member Greg Schmid, who said the revised estimates amounted to a postponement of "dealing with the structural problem we have."
Other council members said the new assumptions are within allowable practices, and always can be altered to reflect new data.
The council voted to revise three of seven actuarial assumptions, resulting in an annual set-aside for retiree medical benefits that will be $12.5 million instead of $13.4 million.
Also Monday, the Council voted to appoint civil engineer Garth Hall to an unexpired term on the Utilities Advisory Commission. Hall, a Palo Alto resident, works as a senior civil engineer with the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
Council members also chose three of six applicants for vacancies on Palo Alto's Public Art Commission, including re-appointment of Richard Ambrose, director of the Pacific Art League and a resident of El Cerrito. The other two applicants appointed were arts journalist Vikki Tobak, who listed a Redwood City address, and Palo Alto resident Patricia Walsh, who has worked in public art in Massachusetts and, more recently, in San Jose.
For three spots on the Human Relations Commission, the Council re-appointed incumbents Ray Bacchetti and Theresa Chen, and also appoionted a new member, lawyer and mediator Diane Morin, who was raised in Italy and came to the United States at the age of 18 for college.