More than 100 people turned out Thursday night, Nov. 8, for a public forum on the future of Cubberley Community Center.
While a few questioned why Palo Alto needs multiple "community centers" Lucie Stern, Mitchell Park, Ventura and Cubberley most described Cubberley as an irreplaceable and valued public asset.
"Our lives have become more entwined with activities and programs at Cubberley," said Palo Alto resident Karen Chin, whose children, ages 3 and 5, are participating in preschool, dance classes and a Mandarin after-school program at the center.
"I see Cubberley as a place where my family can go to get that diversity of experience that will allow them to grow into the kind of adults I'd like them to become."
Another attendee, Carolyn Caywood, said the Children's Preschool Center at Cubberley is one of the few in the area that offers care for babies under six months old.
"Child care in this city is very impacted, particularly for very young children, because so many of us commute here from other areas," said Caywood, who works at Stanford Hospital and Clinics.
"Many families can't afford for both parents not to be working, so finding a quality place for a young child that's close to where you work and can handle long hours is very, very difficult."
Since Cubberley closed as a high school in 1979, the city has leased the campus from the school district for use as a community center, facilitating a $7.3 million-a-year revenue stream for schools and low-cost rents for nonprofit tenants who offer programs in the arts, sports, education and health care.
The current least expires in 2014 and city and school officials are negotiating a plan for the future, with help from a 28-member "community advisory committee" that has been meeting intensively since June.
Planners are looking at short- medium- and long-term options that eventually could involve shared use of the property should the school district need to reclaim the site to accommodate projected enrollment growth after 2020.
In the short term the next five years or so city and school officials have indicated they hope to renew the lease and let the community programs continue to operate, though possibly with higher rents.
But Cubberley's anchor tenant, Foothill College which provides $930,000 of the city's total annual lease revenue of $2.54 has said it intends to open its new satellite campus at the former Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale in the fall of 2015.
Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the City Council has a policy of offering subsidized rents to nonprofits at Cubberley, but that policy is likely to be re-examined.
"I expect the rent schedule will be looked at to offset some of the liabilities," he said. "How much and what is another question."
Joe Hirsch of the non-profit tenant Cardiac Therapy Foundation of the Mid-Peninsula said his group, which has helped thousands of cardiac patients in its 40-year history, would go out of business if it had to pay market-rate rents.
"In this community, we cannot afford for-profit rates," Hirsch said. "If we have to move, we'd have to raise our rates by one third and either become a program for the elite and wealthy or spiral downward and go out of business.
"We need a community center like this, and we assume that other tenants do too."
Advisory committee member and former Palo Alto mayor Lanie Wheeler said the committee has looked across the country for successful examples of shared facilities use between cities and school districts.
"We'll have some of that research available in our report and we're still gathering information as we find it," said Wheeler, inviting others to suggest examples that she would follow up on.
Palo Alto School Superintendent Kevin Skelly said it will be "quite a while" before the district reaches the 4,600-student capacity of the two existing high schools.
"We don't see a high school (at Cubberley) in the short term, but it's a possibility for the long term," Skelly said.
Locating a more urgently needed fourth middle school at Cubberley is not optimal because it would require substantial school boundary changes that would be unpopular, Skelly said.
"We'd rather find another place that would work better for boundaries and we're looking right now," he said.
As for a 13th elementary school also needed in the near term Skelly said the district is considering either Greendell School, which is adjacent, but not part of, Cubberley, or Garland School at 870 N. California Ave.