Avenidas unveils revised expansion plan

New design reflects community feedback on last year's proposal

The senior services agency Avenidas last month unveiled a revised expansion plan for its downtown Palo Alto senior center that officials said incorporates feedback from community members and city agencies they received on a July 2015 proposal.

The revised plan, like the earlier one, would increase Avenidas's downtown operations from 18,400 square feet to 26,500 square feet and include a new three-story, technologically advanced building with amenities and programming to accommodate Palo Alto's booming senior population.

This time around, however, the style of the addition is more in keeping with Avenidas's existing 1926 historic building at 450 Bryant St., which was designed by noted architect Birge Clark and first served as Palo Alto's police and fire station.

"Fundamentally, the community didn't embrace the contemporary style of the (first proposal)," said Lisa Hendrickson, the former president and CEO of Avenidas who is spearheading the $18 million renovation project. "They really wanted a look that related more closely to the Birge Clark building, and that's what this (revised) design is intended to do."

The addition has punched windows and a less contemporary use of glass, Hendrickson said.

"Our architect likes to say that it has a 'new set of clothes' now," she added.

Architect Kevin Jones said the new plan "allows for a distinction between the old and the new that isn't as severe as the previous one and has components to it that recall the style of the existing building, but perhaps in a more contemporary way."

The new design also includes first- and second-floor connectors between the Birge Clark building -- which would remain intact -- and the addition, which would be built behind it on the site of Avenidas's current 1970s-era dining room. The addition of the connectors between the old and the new buildings came from suggestions by member of the city's Architectural Review Board, Hendrickson said.

If the proposal is approved, construction could begin as early as fall 2017, said Avenidas officials who hope to temporarily relocate the agency to Cubberley Community Center during the 12- to 15-month-long project. The federally subsidized La Comida hot lunch program will be temporarily moved to the First United Methodist Church on Hamilton Avenue.

In a recent public meeting, seniors from Avenidas appeared receptive to the revisions but questioned Hendrickson and Jones about the availability of meeting space, lack of additional parking and the size of the new dining commons.

Given the growth of the La Comida hot-lunch program, one participant asked why the new design does not have expanded dining space. Hendrickson responded that planners have been struggling for the past three years with "trade-offs" in the new design. The lunch program will move to multiple seatings to accommodate the demand, Avenidas president and CEO Amy Andonian said.

Parking, said Jones, "has been one of the primary challenges of the project from its inception."

Planners explored creating more spaces in the Bryant Street parking structure across from Avenidas as well as in the parking lot behind Avenidas, accessible from Ramona Street, but neither of those worked out, he said.

"What we're going to do is pay into the city's parking program, which facilitates the future construction of parking, but also, on our side, increase shuttle services and other means of getting people to the site," he said.

Andonian said Avenidas has a new partnership with Lyft and is negotiating discounted rides for older adults, with Avenidas acting as the dispatcher.

Bicycle racks will be in front of the building on Bryant, and planners also are exploring bicycle lockers at the rear of the building, Jones said.

The renovated Avenidas will have many more flexible classroom and meeting spaces than the current building, Jones said, as well as a ground-floor dining area, a second-floor wellness center, a third-floor fitness center, and possibly a small theater in the basement. The plan also includes an outdoor courtyard and a third-level roof terrace.

"The modernization of the building and the expansion is going to significantly improve the experience for people, and we're going to be able to do more here for more people," Hendrickson said. But, she added, "We know this will not solve our capacity issues entirely."

The agency intends to find an additional site -- ideally in southern Palo Alto -- to provide services to Palo Alto's growing population of older adults, she said. Avenidas also runs the Rose Kleiner Center in Mountain View, a day program for seniors.

Both sites combined serve about 7,500 people annually, she said.

"We don't know how many we'll serve in the future, but today older adults age 55-plus already make up one-third of the Palo Alto population, and this segment throughout the mid-Peninsula will continue to grow for another 20 years, reaching almost 50 percent of the population."

Related content:

City chips in $5M toward Avenidas expansion

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23 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2016 at 9:55 am

Marie is a registered user.

As an Avenidas member, I will not support a massive expansion with no additional parking and no additional space for its most popular service for low income servers, the dining room. Also, I believe Avenidas. like so many other organizations, provides no support to those of us living in South Palo Alto. A better expansion would have been to open a satellite facility in South Palo Alto, perhaps in Cubberley, to better serve all of its Palo Alto clients.

This expansion will serve staff more than members. Does the staff park in the dedicated parking lot? Have they joined the TMA? How many of them commute in single cars? Giving money received from the city back to the city to help solve transportation issues, while making them worse, is a joke.

6 people like this
Posted by louann
a resident of Barron Park School
on Jul 1, 2016 at 12:56 pm

louann is a registered user.

I agree with Marie

9 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Avenidas does a wonderful job providing services to this community's seniors. Rather than complain about the effort to expand the downtown facility, let's instead commend Avenidas enthusiastically for making the long-overdue revamp a reality! It is an $18 million dollar renovation/addition of which Avenidas is raising $13 million on their own - In contrast, the City of Mountain View had to fully fund the entire cost of their Senior Center. Yes, it would be nice to have a satellite facility in South Palo Alto and perhaps this idea is already being pursued. Thanks, Avenidas!!

16 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2016 at 4:42 pm

Just forget about expanding the facility downtown, given lack of parking and increased traffic. Concentrate on a separate facility to serve South Palo Alto.

10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2016 at 10:35 pm

If Avenidas can move to Cubberley temporarily, why not just move it there permanently? Plenty of parking, no stairs or elevators, plenty of floor space.

9 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2016 at 11:49 pm

Totally agree with the comments on leaving the building downtown alone. This city keeps destroying what is beautiful by tacking on massive "improvements". Leave the downtown building alone and build another nice senior center in another area of town with ample parking and near public transportation.

The addition at 3 stories is huge and detracts from the original building by looming over it and the park and making the entire facility look and feel cramped. Very poor design that like many these days is only concerned with maximizing space while adding ugly all around.

10 people like this
Posted by Development interests rule
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2016 at 12:45 am

[Portion removed.]

The building has an old fashioned charm that is totally fine with its users. The fake stories about crowding are just that, fake. Lunch is the only event that is crowded. This could be easily remedied by having two sittings, perhaps at 11:30 and at 12:30. Problem solved.
The basement is relatively empty and only sometimes used. Remodeling a couple of rooms downstairs could increase the building capacity a lot. There is an elevator.

Developers have been focusing on local non-profits. This is not the only one. There's money to be made, that's what it is about.

3 people like this
Posted by Architectural Rule
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 2, 2016 at 9:30 am

Preservation and massing of the addition should respect the historical Birge Clarke building. Program can fit within two stories (not 3) located entirely behind the original rectangular form with no loss of dining space or other program needs as long as the design/development team/city recognizes that the one story separate garage structure is not historically significant and can be removed. Except for the parking issues, this would answer all other objections. The interrelated functions of Avenidas will be retained in one place fully integrated with the new addition. And the new two story facade facing the parking lot can have its own identity while remaining a respectful distance from Cogswell Park. Can't understand why the City does not designate more parking for Avenidas during the busy lunchtime hours, the final impediment to a successful project.

3 people like this
Posted by Fatherof3
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Great to say saner heads prevailed and the original modern, glassy design was scrapped for what is now presented. I attended the meeting at Avenidas when that original design was presented to the public and they made it sound like it was a done deal. After the meeting I met with one of the Avenidas folks in charge of the entire project and offered my assistance to do some stealth fundraising when they were in the phase of searching out some large donors. My only reservation was that I couldn't ask people for large sums of money when I felt that the modern design was a monstrosity. The person I was speaking with also was pretty clear that the design proposed was a done deal. Very glad to see her proved wrong.

6 people like this
Posted by Linda
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 2, 2016 at 3:01 pm

I like the idea of using South Palo Alto- How about using some of the new buildings behind the new library?
Or better yet, Cubberley would be perfect if you could fix it up.

6 people like this
Posted by Barbara Gross
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 2, 2016 at 3:22 pm

I have been working to help raise money for the expansion. The poor condition of the internal space is unsafe and doesn't come near meeting ADA code. The space was adapted from the original design use of a police and fire department. The new facility will allow for better services in a safe environment. Although the outside of the building is aestecthically important, it is the inside of the building that gives it meaning.
If there were a blank canvas to design, fund and build the perfect facility - we would be having a different discussion. Please consider the effort and the spirit in which this is being done. We are so fortunate to have Avenidas in our community along with the committed and competent group of people who run it.

5 people like this
Posted by David Hirsch - Architectul Rule
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Inside and Outside must work as one. Both give meaning, identity. Eliminating the ancillary garage structure and creating a better scaled building at two stories (rather than 3 as in the present proposal) will provide for both better exterior 'aesthetics' and recognition of historic value (Birge Clarke) and also a much better interior functioning program which allows better service to the community. A 'perfect facility' might recognize the concerns of the more distant neighbors or the parking issue. The effort or spirit or the importance of the Avenidas history and commitment is not diminished but rather enhanced by improving the design, both inside and out. Now it is only digital images, once it is bricks and mortar mistakes are permanent.

Like this comment
Posted by Amy Andonian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2016 at 5:23 pm

Avenidas pays full rates for annual parking permits for its 24 employees who work at the Bryant Center so that they can park in City garages and parking lots. They do not park in the 25 spaces available exclusively for Avenidas participants in the parking lot behind the building off Ramona Street. We do intend to join the TMA, and we have consistent Avenidas representation at the City's Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) Transportation Subcommittee meetings. We have also worked closely with City staff to identify ways to improve the Palo Alto Free Shuttle and make it more "senior-friendly." Avenidas has also developed a comprehensive "Transportation Demand Management" document that outlines our plan/strategies to increase options for seniors to access the Avenidas Center at 450 Bryant Street, while simultaneously helping to mitigate ongoing parking and transportation issues in the downtown area.

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

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