Abilities United announces plan to redevelop all facilities

Organization for people with disabilities to replace aging structures

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 East 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

Related stories:

At shuttered swim center, community seeks answers, action

Abilities United head Lynda Steele to retire

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Like this comment
Posted by Helped by this facility!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2014 at 10:59 am

What wonderful news. This facility helped me greatly, after an injury several years ago. I know many people went there, regularly. It is a place for healing not only from physical wounds, but also a place where everyone knows names of other people, a community-building location. This is cause for joy. Thank you for this article and to the people that made this other-centered decision.

Like this comment
Posted by local mom
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 15, 2014 at 11:35 am

Yay! Thanks for telling us about the campaign, Weekly!

Like this comment
Posted by Ingrid SHU
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 15, 2014 at 4:45 pm

I personally benefitted from the warm water pool. The most wonderful things will happen when people like me can only do aquatic exercises due to knee problems. The people are so friendly and supportive. It is like a big family!
I am so glad to hear about this good news.

Like this comment
Posted by MVResident67
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 15, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Abilities United is a wonderful organization which serves so many people in our communities, so this is fantastic news!

Like this comment
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 16, 2014 at 9:48 am

This is such positive news. Thank you kindly for letting us know. I will look forward to the re-opening of this pool and meeting again all the people who are just as thankful as I am.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2014 at 10:02 am

Marie is a registered user.

Congrats that Abilities will rebuild their facilities.

My only concern is the comment in the article that states that real estate professionals are volunteering their time to help with the redevelopment plan. I hope the plan does not include developing some or all of the current site to pay for the redevelopment. One of the greatest strengths of the current site is the great location and easy parking. As a former user of AU for orthopedic rehab, I would hate to see the location change or become less accessible.

Let's hope for a plan that is not so grandiose that normal community fund raising will be sufficient without the "help" of real estate developers.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter K.Mueller
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Reestablishing an aquatic center in our area is really important!
Years ago it served me really well with symptoms of lumbago
Over the last year or more the pain has become worse again. I had mentioned to a Los Altos physician treating me and more or less giving up on any treatments how much the hot water pool had helped me long ago but that we didn't have such a facility any longer.
He referred me to the Timpany Center in San Jose. Despite the long drive to there, after a few sessions with an in-pool therapist I am already much improved and managing without pain reducing medication.

Like this comment
Posted by 2 L8 4 ME
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2014 at 9:05 am

I developed a serious neurological disease late last summer, and the Betty Wright Center closed just as I needed it most--after a month in subacute rehab. A warm water pool was exactly what the neurologist ordered, but since it is now,unavailable, I am relegated to a cold water pool which actually shocks my de-myelinated nerves and stiffens the muscles. But, it is better than nothing.

Since I am stuck with this disease for the rest of my life, I hope they can bring back a warm water pool locally in a reasonable length of time!

Like this comment
Posted by Betty Wright Legacy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 11, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Palo Alto has long led in providing health promotion programs. And, the Betty Wright program was a leader in disability inclusion way before such efforts became mainstream. The ties to the community and the nation at large runs deep. For example, Betty led a Stanford disability program for nearly 30 years, shaping Stanford undergraduate scholar-athletes' perspectives and values (many who became staff and volunteers in the program). Today, more than 1,000 people have served as staff of Betty Wright's aquatic programs between 1968 (the center's opening) and 2013 (closure of the 3864 Middlefield site). I feel proud that Abilities United's board of directors have agreed to carry this legacy forward, with approving redevelopment. Shelley Hebert, who led the Palo Alto JCC, is now a project manager to this project. How exciting for Abilities United!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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