Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 18, 2014

Abilities United announces plan to redevelop all facilities

Organization for people with disabilities to replace aging structures

by Sue Dremann

Six months after Abilities United announced the closure of its Betty Wright Aquatic Center, the organization's board of directors voted to redevelop all of its aging facilities, a spokesperson has told the Weekly.

The board of directors voted at its March meeting to begin the planning necessary for the large-scale redevelopment of the organization's facilities for persons with disabilities, including the warm-water aquatics center, which closed in October 2013. Abilities United facilities include three 1960s-era buildings at its main site at 3864 Middlefield Road, including the aquatics center, and a 1980s administrative facility at 525 E. Charleston Road in Palo Alto.

Karen Moore, board president, said a complete redevelopment has been in the back of everyone's mind since the board began to consider the organization's future and direction during a 2011 retreat.

"The pool just made it (a) reality," she said.

A broader redevelopment plan "just seemed totally logical," Moore said. "We know it has to happen. We would hate to be in a situation where we put all of our eggs in one basket. It just gave us an opportunity to look at this in totality. We don't want to be in a situation in the future where we have to cease services."

The Middlefield Road facilities house Milestones Preschool, child-development services, early intervention, adult day activities, after-school socialization programs and computer education. Employment services, independent-living skills and respite services are located in the administrative building.

Abilities United is forming a redevelopment task force to focus on the master planning, Moore said. Capital-campaign planning is still in the early stages.

"We're trying to get as much expertise as we can to ensure being as logical and as thoughtful and creative as we can. We have wait lists for some services. Physically, we don't have the capacity for everyone who needs them," she said.

Abilities United, previously known as C.A.R., was formed in 1963 by 12 families. Its programs became an alternative to institutionalization for their developmentally disabled children. The nonprofit organization now serves more than 2,400 children and adults through cradle-to-grave services that include children's development, family support, adult independent-living services, job training and integration into the greater community.

The organization launched a separate fundraising campaign, United for the Future, in January 2013. The campaign aims to raise $2 million for programs and services to integrate clients and their families in the greater community. The campaign raised $1.2 million as of April 1, according to the organization. New programs will include Art for Inclusion, drowning prevention for at-risk youth, service scholarships, staff development and training and an updated, accessible playground. The campaign seeks to raise another $800,000 by January 2015.

"I see this campaign as a way to help provide quality facilities and needed services for people with disabilities far into the future. As a medical doctor and as an Abilities United board member, I have seen the benefits of Abilities United services to the community," Dr. Harry Hartzell said.

The impetus for the redevelopment, the shuttering of the Betty Wright Aquatic Center, was a painful episode for Abilities United, staff has said in the past. Unlike recreational pools, the therapy pool is heated at 93 degrees and was used for fitness classes and rehabilitation for people with paralysis from accidents or strokes as well as chronic orthopedic, neurological and developmental conditions.

Since the pool's closure, Abilities United has relocated aquatic services at interim locations, including facilities at DeAnza Cupertino Aquatics and Timpany Center in San Jose. Palo Alto's Channing House opened its facilities to Abilities United on March 31, and staff is negotiating with the Redwood City Parks and Recreation Department to provide a drowning-prevention program tailored to Latino families and children at Hoover Pool.

But the need for a permanent facility looms large, organization members said. As baby boomers age, the need for aquatics therapy will grow significantly.

Real-estate professionals are also volunteering time to help with the aquatic center's redevelopment plan. A team of students and an adviser from the Stanford School of Engineering recently examined the potential for a modern, energy-efficient center. The group will present its report at Abilities United in April.

Information about Abilities United's fundraising campaigns, services and programs can be found at www.AbilitiesUnited.org.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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