A lagging effort by the city of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Unified School District to reimagine the jointly owned Cubberley Community Center received a jolt this week when the City Council and the school board each voted to approve a contract with a consulting firm that will help create a master plan for the sprawling complex at 4000 Middlefield Road.
The council voted 7-0 on Monday night, with Greg Tanaka and Tom DuBois absent, to approve a $565,972 contract with the New Orleans-based firm Concordia, which will assist the city and the school board in creating the Cubberley Community Center Master Plan. The district's Board of Education followed suit on Tuesday night with its own 5-0 vote in support of the Concordia contract.
The hiring of Concordia should jump-start a planning effort that has been largely on hold for the past three years, much to the frustration of council members and other stakeholders. The district owns 27 acres in the 35-acre campus and leases them to the city, which owns the other 8 acres. In March 2016, City Manager James Keene and former district Superintendent Max McGee signed a new lease that calls for the completion of a master plan for Cubberley by Dec. 31, 2019.
Under the agreement between the city and the school board, the cost of the contract – as well as the associated environmental analysis -- will be split equally among the two parties. Currently, the estimated cost of the planning exercise stands at $665,972, with each side expected to contribute $332,986.
While the two sides are splitting the costs, the city will take the lead in working with the consultant on the planning process, according to the "Mutual Cooperation and Cost Share Agreement" between the two parties. Though the agreement gives the city the authority to work with Concordia, it prohibits the city from providing direction to Concordia that varies from its approved contract without express consent from the school district.
The council approved the contract with Concordia on its "consent calendar" with no discussion. On the school board, however, one member voiced concern about the city having perhaps too much of a say on a project that holds great implications for the school district. Board member Melissa Baten Caswell said it concerns her that the city is the lead part on this, given that the district owns 27 acres in Cubberley.
"The majority of this asset is ours and I feel we need to make sure we're not just following city direction on it," Baten Caswell said.
She also suggested that the city already has a strong idea of what it wants at Cubberley and argued that it's important to make sure the district looks out for its interests.
"I've been in a lot of meetings with city folk that make me feel like they think they're driving this," Baten Caswell said.
Bob Golton, the district's bond manager, assured Baten Caswell that district staff will remain engaged.
"Individuals who have witnessed me at meetings with city folk have found otherwise," Golton said in response to her concern.
Golton noted that even though the city is the party to the contract, any "material direction" the process takes will be subject to the school district's approval.
Board President Ken Dauber and member Todd Collins agreed that board and district staff need to be deeply engaged in the process for it to achieve a successful outcome. Dauber said the board "will not like and accept and act on the outcome if we don't shape it in a way that works for the district."
"Whatever comes out of the plan will require an enormous contribution of resources and energy," Dauber said. "And if we're not bought into it, it won't be useful."
Collins said he is "very excited" about the project and also stressed the need for the district to be deeply involved in the process.
"We need to reach out and engage and really put some effort into it," Collins said. "Because we will get out of it what we put into it."
The contract calls on Concordia to develop a detailed work plan with city and district staff; review the 2013 report from the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, a stakeholder group that recommended a "joint vision" for Cubberley; and develop a community engagement plan. The plan calls for recruiting and training "community fellows" who will assist with outreach and meeting facilitation.
Concordia will also be charged with evaluating the community's needs and identify opportunities at Cubberley for meeting these needs. It will work with the community to develop the vision, goals and opportunities for Cubberley and hold workshops to solicit ideas.
After that, Concordia will help the city and the school district develop between three and six conceptual designs for a future Cubberley facility and draft the Cubberley Master Plan Report that will include phasing scenarios and cost estimates for each phase of the preferred conceptual designs. The plan would then be subject to a public hearing and reviews by the council and the school board before it's finalized and adopted.