• View a video of Palo Alto High School's new gym here.
Palo Alto High School's new 91,765-square-foot athletic complex, set to open this fall, rivals most high schools' and even some colleges' athletic facilities.
It has dedicated wrestling and dance rooms, a vast weight room, a training room with a hydrotherapy tub, a golf simulator, numerous coaches' offices with flat-screen TVs for watching game footage, multiple locker rooms, a large classroom for courses on nutrition and sports medicine and not one but two gyms, among many other bells and whistles. Throughout the building, enormous arched windows that match the architecture of the campus let in natural light.
The new complex more than doubles the square footage of Paly's historic 85-year-old gym, which was demolished in the fall of 2015.
"I've never seen a high school have this," said Tom Hodges, principal of fs3|Hodges, the construction management company for the project. "Never."
The $41.6 million project was made possible by a private donation from the Peery family, who in 2013 said they wanted to provide a community space that would "nurture the whole child and provide some balance in the fast-paced, work-obsessed environment we live in."
The Peery family donated $23.4 million to build the athletic center -- thought to be the single largest gift the Palo Alto school district has ever received. The school district's share grew from an original $5.7 million in 2013 to a final $18.2 million, funded entirely through the $378 million "Strong Schools" bond voters passed in 2008.
Jason Peery, son of Paly graduate Richard Peery, told the Weekly the athletic center has turned out "the way we hoped."
"It's not only an awesome facility but also an opportunity for the whole school to gather together, hang out together and support each other in a way they couldn't before with the previous gym," he wrote in an email. "The viewing experience will be phenomenal. That also makes the community want to come and be involved with the school."
While an official grand opening is scheduled for Oct. 21, coaches, athletics staff and physical-education teachers have been eagerly familiarizing themselves with the space in recent weeks and months, said Palo Alto Unified Bond Program Manager Bob Golton.
Student-athletes will be able to use some of the new facilities, primarily the weight room, as early as July. The weight room, despite being below ground, is large and airy, with rubber flooring that features images of Paly's mascot, the Viking. Next door, a fitness room will soon be filled with rowing, bicycling and other aerobics machines that will be accessible to students of all skill levels, said Paly Athletic Director Kathi Bowers.
The new basement level of the complex, which added 50,523 square feet, houses the weight room and fitness room as well as main PE locker rooms, team locker rooms, restrooms and showers; a PE classroom with a projector; office space for PE teachers; a break room for coaches and teachers; a small, gender-neutral locker room with showers; and a golf room with a simulator so the team can practice even if it's raining.
The complex is a huge boon not only to the sports teams, Bowers said, but to the PE department and broader school community.
"It's more than just athletics," she told the Weekly. "It's first and foremost an educational building."
On the ground level is the wrestling room, dance studio (whose floor is made of wood that has more bounce to it), a lactation room and the main entrance. Previously, the wrestling and dance teams shared a space about one-third of the size, Bowers said. There's also a second, small gym, which seats 250 people. A memento from the floor of the old gym -- a circular, green piece that reads "Palo Alto Vikings" -- is now mounted on one of the small gym's walls.
Outside, the swimming pool was largely untouched, but the pool's deck was expanded, outdoor showers were added and dedicated locker rooms were built for the students involved in swimming activities. The aquatics staff requested lockers and showers that would be directly accessible from the pool deck, "noting that going downstairs (to the gym locker rooms) when wet was not realistic nor safe," Golton said.
The crowning feature of the complex is the new main gym. It seats 1,640, has a new audio-visual system, movable seats and can be split into three sections to accommodate three teams simultaneously. Peery anticipates that when the new gym is packed with fans for games, "The vibe ... is going to be off the charts."
With seats on the court, the space is large enough to accommodate the entire school for assemblies, Hodges said on a recent tour of the space. A large screen can drop down into the gym for presentations or events.
A traditional trophy case stretching along one side of the gym above the seats will showcase the history of Paly athletics with trophies, plaques, oil paintings of various sports by an artist and Paly alum and other memorabilia, Bowers said. A group of Paly student-athletes has been coming up with ideas for how to fill the cases.
Another group of students has been enlisted to open a student store in the new center, she said.
A coaches' suite with whiteboards and an 80-inch flat-screen TV overlooks the new court from above. Just off the gym there's a small, secondary training room, locker rooms, equipment storage and even a laundry room.
As with Paly's other facilities, including the Media Arts Center and Performing Arts Center, the new athletic center will be rentable for community use and events. Previously, Paly took in about $25,000 per year from renting out the old gyms on weekends and over the summer, Golton said. The school plans to use the 2017-18 school year for staff's and students' adjustment to the space before renting it out the following year, when Paly anticipates receiving the same or slightly higher revenue rental, Golton said.
The donor, school and district hope the new complex will usher in a new era for athletics and community at Paly. Peery said it's incredibly meaningful for his father, who attended Paly in the 1950s and still lives in Palo Alto, to be able to see the center come to fruition.
Bowers said she has led some "very, very excited" groups of students on early tours of the facility.
"They can't wait" to take full advantage of the center, she said. "They're chomping at the bit."