Google workers' kids to play by the bay
City board approves day care center but requests design be made more 'fun'
The salt-marsh harvest mouse won't be the only thing scurrying around the Palo Alto Baylands next year. Tots will be, too.
City officials last Thursday recommended that Google be allowed to turn an office building at 3801 E. Bayshore Road, next to the Baylands, into a day care center for its employees' children.
But while approving the firm's proposal to remodel the building, members of the Architectural Review Board asked designers to make the bland facade more fun — prompting disagreement over what constitutes child-friendly design.
Google's plans call for the 15,442-square-foot building to gain 3,091 square feet, including a children's play space, an outdoor patio and a second-story balcony.
Its long, low exterior will be punched up with staircases and a new coat of paint, architect Chris Dorman of Dorman Associates said.
An environmental review found the project wouldn't negatively impact the surrounding nature preserve, but Google will pay the city about $96,000 in development fees, according to city documents.
The facility will not replace but rather add to existing childcare facilities offered by Google, company spokesperson Sunny Gettinger said.
Employees will pay a competitive market price to enroll children in the play-based preschool, as they do at the firm's Mountain View "Kinderplex" center, she said.
The Baylands facility, dubbed "Bayshore Children's Center," will house about 80 children from ages 6 months to 5 years and likely open in late spring, project manager David Blitz of the Staubach Company said.
But not before architects tackle the directive laid out by board members: Make the building less boring.
"You have an opportunity to do something fun. ... You're trying to make the most you can out of a bland office building," board member Heather Trossman said.
The board unanimously criticized a plain gray "accent" color designers proposed for the blandly colored exterior.
The gray would fade away in shadows created by the sun and make the building look unattractively flat, board member David Solnick said.
And Trossman recommended adding bright, bold colors typically associated with toys and playtime.
But bold colors can be hard on young children, architect Leslie Geathers of Dorman Associates said.
"It's too much stimuli for children. ... We like to have warm, soft colors, things that evoke the home rather than going off to a carnival," she said.
And designers hesitated to use stand-out hues for fear of contrasting with the natural surroundings, Dorman said, prompting board Chair Clare Malone Prichard to suggest a terracotta color.
The board also told designers to make the outside staircase more whimsical to match the balcony.
Trossman suggested a curvy, playful railing to replace the boring rectilinear design.
Yet it was tough to find railings that were both fun and safe for kids, Dorman said.
And board members questioned whether some of the facility's best Baylands views should be given to the teachers' lounge, suggesting children would also benefit.
But sometimes frazzled teachers would benefit from soothing vistas, while children tend to see what is right in front of them, Geathers said.
Board members ultimately approved the project, yet asked for matching stair railings and a bolder accent color.
They agreed that the facility's location could not be improved upon.
"This is a great place for a child care center," board member Judith Wasserman said.
Vice Chair Grace Lee was absent for the Thursday meeting.
Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at email@example.com.