Parks & Rec Planning

New Hillview Community Center — a downsizing from existing?

Slide from Noll & Tam about trends in community center design
Doing more with the same space means 'more use of flex space'
Written by lalahpolitico

It appears at first glance that the New Hillview Community Center being planned and designed by architects Noll&Tam and a recently formed citizen Task Force may have considerably less interior space for Recreation Dept. programming than the existing Hillview Community Center. It depends on how a person “defines and measures” the various “space” concepts.

The Hillview Community Center Task Force — a group of citizens appointed by the City Council —  has started to look at different allocations of space, for seniors, for youth, for tenants.  Mark your calendar for Aug 26, 9am-1pm, at the Social Hall at Hillview Community Center. That’s when the Task Force will hear from the public once again, but also finalize a space allocation to present at a City Council Study Session Sept. 26.   That study session will be a “check-in” with council members to assess if the Task Force’s initial space and site recommendations are on track and within budget or if they need more than just tweaks. [The Task Force needs to fully complete its Hillview Community Center mission by December 2017.]

New Hillview Community Center Los Altos

With the $25M budget constraint — funds coming out of City reserves — Noll&Tam estimates this is space we can afford… between ~21,000 to ~24,000 gross square feet depending on the prevailing cost per square foot at the time of construction..

Remembering 2015 Measure A

In the run up to the failure of the 2015  $65 M Measure A bond election, Lalahpolitico  wrote a post about the ~55,000 square foot Hillview Community Center that was planned by Andersen Brulee Architects (ABA) then and compared it to the existing Hillview Community Center building.  The 2014-15 Andersen Brulee project definitely appeared to be a 2X space expansion and would enable at least a 2X expansion in Recreation Dept. courses, programming and room rentals at the Hillview Community Center. Voters confirmed its was too big, too expensive, and could have negative impacts on the neighbors. The NO vote on Measure A was 70%.

[According to the the Director of Recreation, Manny Hernandez] the existing Hillview Center is 29,510 sq. ft. “occupied”  or gross floor space. Of that 26,195 sq. ft is “interior space”. [That interior space figure for the existingHillview Community Center fluctuates around plus/minus 500 depending on which document one looks at. Close enough.]
Hillview Community Center Task Force Los Altos

The Noll & Tam cost estimator consultant delivered the bad news about how little “assignable”  floor space is available for recreation programs, just 15,000 to 18,000 square feet, with the project budget of $25M. And 4,500 of that is for necessary administration and reception.

Decision Process for
Space Allocation
for new Hillview Community Center

On Aug. 8, 2017 the Noll&Tam architects introduced a space allocation template for the task force to practice with and for the future final space deliberations. They also provided a couple of examples of filled-out templates. The template makes the hard trade-offs at the Noll&Tam Hillview Community Center readily visible.

Hillview Community Center Task Force

Aug. 8. Noll & Tam introduced a space allocation template which the Hillview Community Center Task Force can use to make trade offs. The small squares offer a choice of sized rooms for say…a dedicated senior center…from 1000 to 4000.

Noll & Tam showed two examples of the template filled in…


On Aug. 8 Noll & Tam provided two examples of the template sheet filled in and coming in within the Hillview Community Center  space budget, aka 15,000 square feet.

Then it was the Task Force’s turn to practice space allocation. The group broke into two subgroups and took 15 minutes to each to come up with an allocation.

The bottom section of the template is reserved for rooms that exceed the 15,000 limit. In case construction costs are lower than anticipated, these extra 3,000 of rooms will be included in the building.

Aug. 8. This slide shows the room size choices that Noll&Tam say make sense functionally and architecturally. So the small tiles are “menu items.”


Left to right, Susan Mesinger, Cathy Lazarus, Phillip Chou, Los Altos Hillview Community Center Task Force

Aug. 8.  Left to right, Susan Mesinger, Cathy Lazarus, Phillip Chou present their practice allocation results to the whole task force and the public present.


Here is the other practice group.


Aug. 8 The other practice group presents its allocation. Cathy Lazarus and Susan Meisinger


Both of the two practice groups of the Hillview Community Center Task Force seemed to agree that a large community room was desirable.

The Task force seems agreed on the need for a nice, new community room with a full catering kitchen and storage. Here is one set for a wedding apparently. More frequent rentals at market rates may reduce the annual  $100,000 subsidy of the Rec. Department’s “direct” costs. [Lalahpolitico: Apparently there is no “allocation of indirect costs” as is done in the private sector.]

 Both groups seemed sobered by the hard reality of “how little space the $25M was buying.”  They expected that on Sept. 26 — when the Task Force presents its initial recommendations to City Council — that Council will be dismayed as well.

Get Your Own Space Allocation Template here

Do you want to try to do some allocation for the new Hillview Community Center? Click the following links to download a template.  Lalahpolitico made a look-a-like template with easy to fill in popup choices in Apple Numbers app for the Mac and it also works on the Numbers app on the ipad. So that means you must have Numbers installed to use it.  There is an Excel file too, but not with pop up room size choices; only with formulas. It should open on a Windows PC with Excel or on a version of Apple Excel.

What Lalahpolitico added to template was space sizes currently being used at Hillview. For example, because the current the MPR community room is 2331 sq. ft., we probably should have a new one about that size. Current dedicated space for the senior lounge is 940 feet. Are we going to just match that or are we going to double that? [Two flex classrooms are used used for seniors flexibly.] All the flex classrooms at Hillview today are ~940.  Do we need to replace them all 6 to 11 of them or not? Do we want some 500 sq. ft. rooms?

Hillview Community Center Task Force

You can download the this temaplate file for Apple Numbers. See the links in the content above this image. The file contains a live form with popup pick lists. There is an excel version but it has no popup pick lists only formulas


How much space are we down?
Pretty much none, actually

So just how cramped are we going to be at the new Hillview Community Center?  The T&N plan has 15,000 assignable sq. ft., but 4,500 comes off the top for non-negotiable admin, lobby, etc.  In Hillview now, there appear to be 13,672 feet used by the City recreations department. Let’s call that assignable.  Only 2,000 is used for admin, and lobby, etc. now.  Yes, the reception area at Hillview now is totally inadequate. But it is a big change moving from 2,000 sq. ft to 4,500 for the administrative customer service function, etc. It’s “non-negotiable”, so let’s not fuss.

Hillview Community Center Task Force assignable space Los Altos

Be aware that for Hillview now (HVNow), the top 5612 chunk is leased to — Children’s corner, Friends of the Library, League of Women Voters and a private Chinese pre-school.  The next chunk of 4715 has been described as “dedicated” to a MVLA Adult Education program and appears to not be available for flex programming either.  Andersen Brulee  (ABA) included  Adult Education in the same tenant group with Children’s corner.  If that is the case, then HVNow is programming only ~15,000 which is comparable to the Tam & Noll 15,000 to 18,000. This chart shows the best case N&T size of 18,000. The Taskforce will make allocations based on 15,000.


In 2014, Andersen Brulee included  (4715 of space)  Adult Education  in the same  tenant group as Children’s Corner (5612 of space) and was planning to design that whole~10,000 for City Recreation programming.  If that is the case, then in HVNow the City Recreation Dept. is programming only about  ~15,000 now which is comparable to the Tam & Noll 15,000 (base case) to 18,000 (best case cost of construction per sq. ft.).

Therefore the current offerings of the Rec. Dept need not be impacted.  AND if the new Hillview Community Center spaces are more flexible and attractive, perhaps they can be used more intensively. You know, like “turning the tables” at a restaurant every 60-90 minutes. Therefore the City’s courses and events offerings could possibly expand in the same square footage. 

Remaining Issues
– Tenants, Seniors

This happy result for the Recreation Dept. of NOT getting downsized at  the new Hillview Community Center does assume that the tenants like Children’s Corner are NOT in the new T&N building.  What to do about it?

Tenants – No room for you?

Some of the exploratory site designs from T&N place the new Hillview Community Center building next to the History Museum. Thus, it appears that much of the old Hillview can remain standing and operating while a new Hillview is constructed.  [Yes, parking will be a mess.]

Noll & Tam exploratory site approach, Hillview Community Center, Los Altos

This is a Noll&Tam exploratory two-story design approach. After construction  one wing of the existing Hillview could possibly be left semi-permanently. Even with the 3 other exploratory designs prepared Noll&Tam, a wing could be left remaining. It could be the whole front wing, half the front wing, or the rear wing. [rear wing, not shown. The yellow oval is Lalah’s swag at the size and location of an the existing Hillview front wing.] Leaving an old wing was an idea the Recreation Dept. Director has floated. He suggested it could be good for storage or…

Links to 4 Exploratory Noll & Tam site plans, at large 1200 pixels

Yellow oval is a swag added by Lalahpolitico to denote leaving a wing of Old Hillview in place.

Option AOption BOption COption D

After construction perhaps the front wing of old Hillview can be left standing for Children’s Corner where they are now.  Perhaps put Friends of the Library in the big old MPR or half of it — that’s where they hold their used book sales anyway. Very convenient. Maybe that arrangement is a 5 or 10 year deal.  Will there be enough ground level parking if that wing or any wing remains standing?  I dunno. [FYI: Children’s Corner has stated it believes it can pay its way for an extra 3000 of space in the new Noll&Tam building; City Staff is exploring the proposal.]

Tam & Know showed this pic in Los Altos

Kinders are the one age group that truly need dedicated space. Their little furniture and low counters don’t work for youth, adults or seniors. Ditto their special little restroom porcelain. If a City run “childwatch” space in included in the new Hillview it will be a dedicated space. It is NOT the same entity as Children’s Corner.

Seniors – Dedicated vs. Flex Space
at the New Hillview Community Center

The T&N architects and city staff are  subtlety suggesting in their biweekly presentations to the Task Force that the Task Force recommend mostly flexible space; not much dedicated space.  They show lots of pics of art rooms, movement rooms, lesson rooms, being used by the young at certain times of day, and then seniors other times of day. The only age group — in their opinion — that really needs dedicated space that can’t be changed out is the tots.  It’s all that itty bitty furniture. Lalahpolitico:  I infer that City Staff and T&N think choosing a smaller dedicated Senior Center Lounge at new Hillview Community Center is wiser than  bigger one.

Image: Flex Space Arts & Crafts Room

The Director of Recreation, Manny Hernandez and the architects Noll & Tam seem to agree–flex space is best for “programming” for all age groups…youths, adults to retirees. The same arts and craft room can service all.


Teens – Please NO dedicated lounge space for us

Los Altos Director of Recreation, Manny Hernandez, has reported that teen customers of City recreation programming are predominantly junior high kids, not older teens.He has said that at the the current Teen Lounge at Garden House by Shoup Park, it’s only the young teens who are visiting it.

Hernandez has explained that once teens and their peers can drive at 16, they are not using City Recreation.  He said the junior high dances at LAYC used to attract 400; now they attract 100 maybe. Hernandez says he believes he can attract the older, high school teens to the Hillview Community Center by offering “new” STEM courses, like robotics, in a setting with modern amenities. These older youth are looking for extracurricular activities that look good to college admission officers. These STEM courses require only flex rooms according to Hernandez.

Back in 2014, when Andersen Brulee Architects (ABA) spoke to the teens and adults on the Youth Commission, they said they did not want ANY permanent lounge room at Hillview. Lalahpolitico: Perhaps the current Youth Commission will say something different.

Locations for City Recreation programming, including senior programming

The City has other locations where it can conceivably provide Senior recreation services in the future. Grant Park in S. Los Altos, the Los Altos Library, the Village Park across San Antonio Road at W. Edith,  and on potential new downtown parks and greens…as they emerge from the “Downtown Visioning” process.

Seniors – Other locations for Senior Programming

It is important to keep in mind that the Hillview Community Center is not the only City asset that can be improved for senior programming. Lalahpolitico: The Task Force should not feel that their collective back is up against the wall, and that they need to provide for all senior needs for the next 50 years. It ain’t so.

The Grant Park building in South Los Altos has already evicted a tenant there, and city recreation programming can expand there. The subsidized senior meal service at Grant has an improved kitchen stove as of a few months ago. Let’s hope that the senior program at Grant could expand days and hours if there is demand.

The Los Altos Library building— which the City owns but leases to the Santa Clara County Library–could benefit from a rebuild.    Local election campaign experts say is easier to get voters to approve capital bond measures for libraries, than for other types of civic buildings. So a City bond for a new library building could conceivably succeed. In a rebuild, there would be an opportunity to create several dedicated gathering spaces for kids and teens inside a new library, and perhaps several flex rooms attached to the library, but programmed by the City. Programming of interest to seniors could be in these flex rooms.  Visit the new Palo Alto Mitchell Library and attached City rooms for an example.

Lalahpolitico:  I visualize the Los Altos library as rebuilt where it sits now on the civic center, not downtown.  When Noll& Tam place the New Hillview Community Center close to the Library and the History House, there can be greater synergies between those uses. [Reminder: the apricot orchard next to the library has a historic designation and and cannot even be moved. So forget about that square of land.]

The Village Park — This is that chunk of land that the City required the developer of the senior housing next to the DeMartini Orchard to give to the City as a park.  Obviously it is a very unpleasant park to sit it in, what with the traffic roar of San Antonio and Edith pressing in on you everywhere.  Perhaps it makes sense to place a small senior center building right there.  Maybe create the building with a large interior courtyard. Such a courtyard could be quiet because the building itself creates an effective sound wall. And of course, the room interiors in the senior center can be created with acoustics that acknowledges senior hearing loss issues. Who will pay for it? I dunno.

Downtown Visioning —  Los Altos Community Investments — actually a separate foundation — may sponsor a very small public park along First Street on half of the parking plaza across from Safeway. And it looks like another different parking plaza could also be converted to a “green”… as proposed in one of the prelimnary Downtown Visioning scenarios. These will be discussed by City Council August 22, 2017. Senior friendly outdoor “wellness” activities like Tai Chi or maybe Feldenkrieis could be conducted at these spots.

New Hillview Community Center
Crucial Aug. 26 Meeting for Space Allocation!!!

The next meeting Saturday, Aug 26 is 4 hours long and very important. The group will have to come up with a semi final space allocation and building location recomendation in order to be ready for the Sept. 26 City Council check-in point.


June 10, 2014 slide deck from Andersen Brulee

The 2014-2016 assertion by the City that there was going to be only a 6.7% increase in Recreation space was misleading. These ABA calculations assumed Hillview’s ~5000 square feet of tenant space was part of the Recreation Program. Wrong. The calculations also includde the ~5000 feet of the Los Altos Youth Center (LAYC) Building as if it were part of Hillview Building programing. Wrong. LAYC is a different building; it’s space is not inside the existing Hillview. Voters wanted a apples to apples replacement of Hillview programming space…not an extra 10,000 square feet snuck in. And then furthermore, there was the” trust us” about “hallways” footage… [CLICK above image for larger 1200 pixel view]

Hallways, Breezeways and “Efficiency”

Voters who voted 70% NO in 2015 on the ABA plan for a new Hillview Community Center building and the swimming pools included in Measure A, reasonably expected that the building footprint of  the new ABA Hillview Community Center might shrink, leaving more open space.  Old Hillview has  those very large breezeways, which made sense in 1946 when the “school” site had more acres than it does now.

Hallways -- really exterior breezeways -- at existing Hillview Community Center Los Altos

The existing Hillview building has over 19,000 of  exterior circulation and  interior space for mechanicals and closets. This is “inefficient space.”


But instead, ABA was at least doubling the space for City Recreation. And it it was not going to be reducing the hallways, circulation, and what not space, all that much.  Happily, today, Noll & Tam architects are apparently going to be able to improve the “efficiency” of the gross space we are buying.

Los Altos Hillview Community Center Task Force

The Noll & Tam building will most likely make due will less space “wasted” by hallways. Exisitng Hillview building now is 44% inefficient, the ABA plan was 38% inefficient, and the N&T plans will come in at 24% to 27% inefficient.


Lalah article on the Excessive ABA Plan in 2015 Measure A


City Documents…

Manny Hernandez, Director Of Recreation, June 29, 2017 slides on Ideal Community Centers.

Andersen Brulee June 10, 2014 slides and space analysis spreadsheet

The June 10, 2014  ABA Spreadsheet alone

Noll & Tam slides July 25

Noll & Tam slides Aug. 8

There is access to many more documents on the City of Los Altos Hillview Community Center page.  The Task Force Public Meetings button has links to all the meeting agendas, which in turn have links to documents, including slide deck .pdfs. There is also a button for Past Planning documents, like Andersen Brulee.

About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.