Paly could get $20M gift for gym
'Largest single gift' to district could benefit sports teams, PE and community groups
A Palo Alto family is considering making a $20 million donation to renovate Palo Alto High School's indoor athletic facilities — the largest single gift ever made to the school district.
While requesting anonymity, the three-generation Paly family is interested in combining its donation with $5.4 million in school-district funds to create a state-of-the-art athletic center by August 2015, school officials said.
The center would be modeled after the three-year-old, $18 million Athletic Center at Menlo School in Atherton, which includes two "sunken" gyms surrounded by lockers, fitness rooms, classrooms and offices.
Board of Education members on Tuesday, Feb. 12, gave Superintendent Kevin Skelly the go-ahead to pursue the plan while acknowledging obstacles, including the possible need to raze the existing gyms and also possibly the recently built aquatic center, which was constructed with donated funds.
Board member Melissa Baten Caswell also warned of potential water-table problems with below-grade construction, citing such issues with the recently built subterranean gym at nearby Castilleja School.
"We're incredibly lucky to have a community that cares about our schools and facilities as much as this community does," Caswell said, echoing the thanks to the prospective donor expressed by the other four board members.
An upgrade of Paly's indoor athletic facilities had been on the school's wish list but was a lower priority than other needs, said Bob Golton, who is managing massive, school-district-wide construction and renovation under the $378 million "Strong Schools" bond approved by voters in 2008.
The private donation has the potential to speed up the process by years, Golton said.
"The Paly master plan has $5.5 million allocated for a weight room," he said.
"That amount is not sufficient to provide for these improvements, so it would be combined with perhaps $20 million in donor money, so it is partly bond money."
Golton said in a report that the donation "could be the largest single gift to the district in its history."
Asked specifically whether the new center would require razing both existing Paly gyms, Skelly said, "Decisions haven't been made on those things. What we're outlining is some of the initial thinking, measuring out where things would go.
"There's a potential you'd need to do a lot of different things and the purpose here is to put those on the table. ... We anticipate it taking up at least the two gym spaces we have right now."
With an accelerated construction schedule and potential conflicts with other bond construction on campus, school officials said they also would need to make sure there are adequate temporary facilities for students during the building process.
Paly officials, including Principal Phil Winston and Athletic Director Earl Hansen, stressed the new athletic center would expand opportunities for athletic teams as well as for physical education, intramural sports and community uses.
"In any given week, we're contacted from five to 10 times by organizations looking to book either a field or a gym, and we have to say 'no,'" Assistant Principal Kim Diorio said.
"This will have a huge impact on our entire community because we'll be able to offer more times in the day, weekends and nights when we can make these spaces available for youth basketball, soccer, volleyball, Stanford programs, adult leagues and nonprofit organizations that want to host tournaments with us."
According to preliminary plans, the new athletic center would increase Paly's total gym space from 19,552 square feet to 24,704 square feet and add a 5,275-square-foot wrestling room as well as 744 square feet of classroom space.
It would replace the existing weight-room space of 1,500 square feet with 5,753 square feet of space and slightly shrink the dance room from 2,752 square feet to 2,413 square feet.
By comparison, Gunn's athletic facilities, currently under renovation, contain 25,285 square feet of gym space; a 4,350-square-foot wrestling room; a 1,890-square-foot weight room; a 2,100-square-foot dance room and 2,592 square feet of classroom space.
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at email@example.com.