Avenidas heads list of new Cubberley tenants

Nonprofits step in to take over Palo Alto space vacated by Foothill College

With Foothill College now completing its departure from Cubberley Community Center in south Palo Alto, the city is preparing to welcome a fresh class of nonprofit groups, studios, faith-based groups and educational programs into the sprawling former high school campus.

The most prominent new tenant will be Avenidas, the city's main provider of senior services. The nonprofit is undertaking a major renovation and expansion of its present headquarters in the Birge Clark-designed building on Bryant Street and plans to occupy Cubberley during the construction period.

The other 16 tenants will occupy roughly 29,000 square feet of space. They include the REACH Program, a nonprofit that serves stroke survivors; Genius Kids, an educational company that provides preschool, kindergarten and after school programs; California Pops, a nonprofit orchestra; Cardiac Therapy, which provides cardiac rehabilitation services; and Art of Living Foundation, which offers yoga and meditation programs. Ranger Taekwondo is a new tenant; so is Silicon Valley Karate.

Other tenants will be Acme Education, Brainvyne, Chinese for Christ Church, Dance Connection, Imagination School, Ivy Goal Education, Living Wisdom, Melody Music, Palo Alto Humane Society and Palo Alto Soccer Club.

To accommodate these tenants, the Palo Alto City Council on Monday night agreed to amend the 1991 "master plan" governing Cubberley, which is jointly owned by the city and the Palo Alto Unified School District. With the changes, buildings that were designated exclusively for education (and, in one case, for administration) will now accommodate nonprofits, community organizations and recreational and child-care programs.

In addition, the council agreed to give Avenidas a discounted rate of $1 per square foot, while nonprofits are typically charged $1.31 per square foot. In approving the discount, the council generally agreed that the nonprofit has a unique status because it offers essential services for seniors that, in its absence, the city would have to provide on its own. Under the longstanding agreement between the city and Avenidas, the nonprofit pays no rent for its existing facility on Bryant Street. It is, however, paying for renovations to the city-owned building.

Lisa Hendrickson, the former CEO of Avenidas who is leading the capital campaign, told the council that even with the discount, the rent payments present a challenge.

"The rental expense, while not a big number, is an incremental cost for operations and one for which we'll have to fundraise," Hendrickson said, "especially at a time when we're asking the community for a lot of money: $13 million for a new building."

The council agreed that the nonprofit deserves the city's help, though Councilwoman Karen Holman wondered why Avenidas would get preferential treatment over other valuable nonprofits. She pointed, as an example, to Friends of the Palo Alto Library, a nonprofit that is also located at Cubberley and that donates about $250,000 annually to the city's library system. Why, Holman asked, isn't the Friends group getting the $1-per-square-foot rate?

"Avenidas provides great services for the community, but show me one of these groups that doesn't," Holman said.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss countered that Avenidas offers something "truly unique" to the community, while Councilman Cory Wolbach called its contribution's "critically important." Ultimately, Holman joined the council majority in the unanimous vote in favor of the discounted rate.

While the new lease agreements solve the immediate vacancies in Foothill's wakes, allowing the city and the school district to continue collecting rent revenue, the long-term future of the 35-acre community center remains undetermined.

In December 2014, the city (which owns 8 acres) and the school district (which owns the remaining 27 acres) signed a new five-year lease agreement that commits the parties to jointly plan the future of the center. Both parties see it as a critical asset, with the school district considering it a potential site of a future school (Cubberley once housed the city's third high school), and the city looking to create a fresh mix of community-serving functions and amenities.

Both parties also agree that the community center is in urgent need of repair, with the city committing $1.8 million annually to an infrastructure fund (before 2014, the city paid this sum to the school district as part of a covenant in which the district agreed not to sell its other school sites; the new lease scrapped the covenant).

On other aspects, there is no clear consensus. In March 2013, a stakeholders' committee conducted a thorough assessment of Cubberley and released a report calling for the city and the school board to jointly fund a "master plan" for the center. While both sides have conceptually embraced the committee's recommendation, the broad planning effort has yet to get off the ground.

On Monday, staff from the Community Services Department assured the council that the new rent agreements will not preclude any long-term options for Cubberley. All leases are short-term, from three years to the time when the city's lease with the school district expires.

Even so, several members of the stakeholders' Cubberley Advisory Committee urged the council not to lose sight of the goals to improve Cubberley and make it work better for both the school district and the city.

Diane Reklis, a former school board member who served on the advisory committee, requested that the council proceed with more urgency on the type of “needs assessment” for Cubberley that her committee had recommended. The analysis, she said, is needed for both sides to make the best use of Cubberley.

“Our conclusion was that we didn't have to choose,” Reklis said. “We can build a thoroughly modern community center at Cubberley and, when the time is right, we can build a school -- a full-sized school. ... This can only happen if we work together and plan together.”


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Correction: This article has been edited to correct the amount of space to be occupied by the 16 tenants. It is roughly 29,000 square feet.

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7 people like this
Posted by Vision
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Or, we could envision the Fry's site eventually as community space, that could be even better and have youth recreation. It is reachable by bike quite easily from large swaths of Palo Alto because of the bike path between Stanford and Los Altos. Then Cubberley could be just school (after hopefully, tearing it down.)

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Yes, Cubberley is a grand design for seniors' activities.

But then again, many of the Avenidas residents I suppose could have been Cubberley grads!

Imagine your own high school becoming a senior centre. Some type of irony there.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 27, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Great idea - I often want to attend Avenidas events but the parking is inconvenient in the downtown area. I hope this works out.

7 people like this
Posted by Enrollments declining
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2016 at 8:30 am

Vision, there's no need for another school at Cubberly. Elementary school enrollments have shrunk for six years in a row, and declined even faster this year. Palo Alto lost the equivalent of an entire elementary school's enrollment just this year. Middle-school enrollments will be declining in five years and high school enrollment within the decade.

Palo Alto is not as much a community for young families anymore. Young families are living in other communities like San Carlos and Santa Cruz, while Palo Alto's population is aging in place. Palo Alto is a community for seniors, and we need to recognize that. We don't need that space for schools. We need that space for seniors.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2016 at 8:50 am

Enrollment may be declining at present, but with all the proposed housing I suspect that at least present numbers will continue at the secondary level.

Our schools are too big for their campuses and facilities. More manageable sized schools requiring less impact on their neighborhoods is a good idea anyway.

6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 28, 2016 at 11:08 am

I selfishly look forward to Avenidas coming down to my end of town. It will be a 5 minute drive or a nice long walk from my home. Then there will be no reason for me to go downtown at all for a while. I'm guessing it will take closer to two years to complete the project. Projects of that magnitude seldom get completed in the estimated timeframe.

9 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 28, 2016 at 11:19 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

I think Avenidas should actually make its permanent home at Cubberly instead of downtown. Safe and abundant parking, lots of space, the potential to have combined activities with young children, I could go on... Rent the downtown building and use that $$ and the fundraising for the renovation to have even more space. It could even be flex space that others could use in the evenings when the seniors aren't using it.

3 people like this
Posted by I agree
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Agree with Be Positive that Avenidas should move to Cubberly. Unfortunately the Avenidas Board is dominated by development advocates and tearing down and rebuilding is more profitable for developers.
The current building is actually quite adequate. Sure, it needs some updating, but the big development people want more. And more.

7 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 28, 2016 at 3:34 pm

I agree with the above two comments. I live so far south that I have never been to Avenidas. I'm looking forward to its new location at Cubberly and wish it would make a permanent home there. Or, at least a partial program offerings that would serve south Palo Alto.

9 people like this
Posted by RJ
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Perhaps Avenidas should keep a presence at Cubberley after the downtown construction work is completed so that South Palo Alto seniors are more locally served.

7 people like this
Posted by Friend of Avenidas
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Note to Karen Holman: A difference between Avenidas and most other local non-profits is that Agendas is providing many services for Palo Alto's seniors at little cost to the City that the City would otherwise have to fully fund by themselves. If the City wanted to open and operate their own Senior Center and Seniors program (similar to the City of Mountain View and staffed with City employees), it would cost the City of Palo Alto far, far more than the annual payment the City currently makes to Avenidas and the real estate that is provided.

Like this comment
Posted by PWA
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2016 at 2:16 pm

So "Friend of Avenidas" is absolutely correct that it would cost the city much more.
The City is getting off rather cheaply really. It is just too bad that there is not better oversight from the City or at Avenidas itself in order to make the services and activities more relevant to the community. Avenidas should take a hard look at how they appear in our community and what they do for the community. The Birge Clark Avenidas building may need an update or expansion but Avenidas should try to keep the building as it is now cleaner. It is dirty and dingy both inside and out. Our seniors deserve better. Hopefully, they will be a better tenant at Cubberley.

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

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