After years of delays and uncertainty, Palo Alto's vision for an improved Cubberley Community Center is now coming into focus, with a new health center, expanded art facilities, a swimming pool and space for a new school all included in a plan for the eclectic but dilapidated campus in south Palo Alto.
The city and the Palo Alto Unified School District are in the midst of a master planning process for the 34.7-acre campus at 4000 Middlefield Road, an effort that is being spearheaded by the Louisiana-based consulting group Concordia LLC. Over a series of three meetings that collectively attracted more than 400 residents and representatives from both the city and the district, Concordia has been soliciting opinions about what programs the new Cubberley should include and what the center should look like once rebuilt.
While opinions range widely, participants have reached a consensus on several key points. One is that the 60-year old center should be completely rebuilt rather than renovated — an endeavor that will take years and that will likely require voter approval. Residents also generally agreed that many of the center's existing uses — including art studios, martial art classes, theaters, playing fields and spaces for nonprofits — should remain at the center.
Residents have also proposed a plethora of new ideas, including a skate park, a swimming pool, culinary kitchen, a café, a playground and pickleball courts. Earlier this month, Concordia released a "program document" based on the first two community meetings that identifies all these programs as "truly new additions" to the campus.
Crucially, the plan also includes about 125,000 square feet of space to accommodate a future middle or high school, a key requirement for the school district. The site for the new school would be located at the south side of the campus, in close proximity to Greendell School and the site at 525 San Antonio Road. Both the Greendell and San Antonio sites were recently added to the master planning process, raising the total area that the city and the district are planning for to 43.1 acres.
In addition to laying out the proposed programs that would fill the new Cubberley, the document makes a case for replacing all the buildings at the site, which it notes "are reaching the end of their functional lifespan" and are inefficient in both their energy use and their layout.
All but one of the buildings at Cubberley are single-story structures. The new plan calls for having more multistory structures at the center of the campus and smaller buildings at the periphery to respect the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
"A reconfigured site with new multi-story buildings will provide far more options for indoor and outdoor program use and will create the possibility of increased interior area to accommodate the long-term vision of a new school and community center."
The planning effort advanced on Thursday, when more than 150 residents came to Cubberley for the third of four meetings spearheaded by Concordia. Unlike the prior two, which focused on what programs should be included in the plan, the Thursday event at the Cubberley center considered the actual layout of the new Cubberley.
Gathered in tables scattered around the Cubberley pavilion, residents debated site plans, architectural styles and traffic circulation. Just prior to the exercises, Steven Bingler, a principal at Concordia, reiterated the feedback that residents had given at prior meetings.
"You said you want to maximize green space, preserve fields and use underground and structure parking," Bingler said.
One way to achieve that, he said, is to consider buildings that are two- or three-stories tall (though nothing higher than that).
"This probably means that one story probably isn't the best use of property," he said, alluding to status quo.
To solicit opinions about the new layout at Cubberley, Concordia had previously presented attendees with three options: one, known as "independent campus" in which the city and school facilities occupy distinct portions of Cubberley; another, known as "shared village" in which city and school facilities are linked by buildings with shared uses, including classrooms and gyms; and a third, known as "building in a park" that creates a dense, compact building in the middle of Cubberley, surrounded by fields and landscaping.
After tallying up the votes and the notes, Concordia found that residents preferred the "shared village" concept by a wide margin.
The discussion of where to place what continued Thursday, when residents debated the layouts proposed by Concordia and jotted down their observations and opinions on the map. One group suggested that the new day care facilities be consolidated with the classrooms. Another observed that the proposed swimming pool location, close to Nelson Drive, is too close to an existing pool at Greenmeadow Community Center (notwithstanding the fact that the Greenmeadow pool is not open to the general public).
Residents also had a chance Thursday to debate architecture styles for the new facilities. Faced with four options, most groups favored either midcentury modern style, which is consistent with the Eichler-style character of surrounding neighborhoods, or the "high-tech/contemporary" style with features such as glass walls and solar-paneled roofs ("Arts and Crafts" and "Mission" styles proved less popular).
The planning process is set to continue on May 7, when Concordia holds its fourth and final meeting. Both the school board and the City Council will then have a chance to consider the planning document and decide on the next steps for reconstructing the jointly owned center.
More information about the Cubberley master plan is available here.