"We aim to support initiatives which nurture the whole child and provide some balance in the fast-paced, work-obsessed environment we live in," said Dave Peery, a 1997 Paly graduate.
Peery is the son of Paly graduate Richard Peery who, along with his business partner John Arrillaga, made a fortune after property they acquired in the 1960s in Santa Clara County became valuable Silicon Valley commercial real estate.
The Peery family's offer to build an athletic center — with the exact dollar figure still unspecified — is considered potentially the largest single gift to the school district in its history. It originally was to be modeled after the $18 million indoor athletic center that opened in 2010 at Menlo School in Atherton.
The family's other local philanthropy includes projects in East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District, as well as plans to build a new gym for East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, a 9-12 charter school.
The family also supports anti-poverty efforts around the world and has funded a Social Entrepreneurship Program at Brigham Young University.
"The core mission of the Peery Foundation is to support youth and families in poverty," Dave Peery said. "Recognizing that Palo Alto is not exactly an impoverished community, my dad is at a point in his life where he's motivated to give back to his hometown in a meaningful way."
Richard Peery established the family's foundation in 1978, with a mission to "strengthen youth and families to build lives of dignity and self-reliance."
The younger Peery said his father is uncomfortable with publicity, preferring private, people-oriented philanthropy often discussed over hamburgers at Kirk's in Town & Country Village.
"This project and others in the pipeline will combine his love of people with his background in development," Dave Peery said.
He said that his brother, Jason Peery, has done most of the direct work with Paly.
Jason Peery is a founder of the commercial real-estate firm Peery Partners as well as a principal at Peery-Arrillaga. Dave Peery manages the day-to-day operations and overall strategy of the Peery Foundation.
The Palo Alto High School project took shape after Jason Peery approached Paly Principal Phil Winston.
"We basically said, 'What are your goals and how can we expand this into something more ambitious, something that will outlive all of us?'" Dave Peery said.
"If we're going to do it, we want to do it right and for the long term. Paly and the Palo Alto Unified School District have been great to work with."
The Board of Education Tuesday approved conceptual plans for two sunken gyms on either side of Paly's aquatic center, to be connected by a covered walkway architecturally echoing that which connects Paly's Tower Building with Haymarket Theatre.
The gym project would include, among other features, a new wrestling/multi-purpose room, pool locker rooms and a new dance and yoga room.
"This will change not just the physical landscape but the feeling on the campus at Paly forever," Winston said. "It is something we need and could not be more thrilled about."
Dave Peery said the lease-leaseback arrangement — a legal alternative to competitive bidding under the California Education Code — would facilitate a high-quality and speedy completion of the project.
Plans call for groundbreaking in June 2014 and occupancy by August 2015, with athletics and physical-education classes operating out of portable classrooms during construction.
"We felt that since we are contributing the majority of the funds to this project that it made the most sense to take this approach and make sure it gets done right," Peery said of the lease-leaseback method.
But, he said, "We don't have any pricing (yet), and the size of the contribution and how it will all come together is still under discussion."
Peery family members were among those who recently partnered with Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills to build a gymnasium on Fabian Way in Palo Alto for use by Pinewood, from which two of Richard Peery's four children graduated.
Neither Richard Peery nor his two children who went to Paly played varsity athletics, although his grandson plays Paly basketball, a granddaughter plays lacrosse and his sister was a Paly cheerleader.
"It's not really about sports or athletics per se," Dave Peery said.
"This is much more about providing balance in the lives of our busy youth. Additionally, these facilities will be available to the broader community."
The Peery family's history in Palo Alto dates to 1924 when Dave Peery's grandfather, Taylor Peery, arrived at Stanford University, running an orange-juice company to support his studies.
He later built a career in banking and real estate, scouting for land on foot and by motorcycle, according to the website of the Peery Foundation.
"We believe that hard work with real people, away from a desk, can make extraordinary things happen in philanthropy," the website states.
Among the local projects the Peery Foundation funds is Palo Alto's Downtown Streets Team, which puts homeless people to work and is extending its method to San Jose, Sunnyvale and San Rafael.
The foundation also is supporting the Ravenswood Education Foundation, the planned Magical Bridge Playground at Mitchell Park that accommodates children with disabilities, and Ada's Café at the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, which will employ people with disabilities to prepare and serve food.