A new public high school that shares Cubberley Community Center with child care centers, dance studios and other local organizations was the vision painted recently by a community advisory committee on the future of the 35-acre site.
While not common, such joint school-city arrangements can be found in communities around the nation, with some planners touting the collaborations as the answer to land scarcity, tight budgets and desire for multi-generational public spaces.
In Wadsworth, Ohio, 40 miles south of Cleveland, a 1,629-student high school and 750-student middle school share a 95-acre parcel with a senior center and café, a community television studio, a recreation center managed by the YMCA and doctors' offices.
Across the bay in Emeryville, plans are underway for a 7.6-acre "center of community life" that will house 750 students in grades K-12 and an array of community services including a library, health and family-support services, job training and recreation opportunities.
Such a scenario at Cubberley is far from reality, but planning for shared city-school use in the future was a central recommendation of the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, which issued its findings in March.
The status quo -- the city's payment of $7 million a year to the school district to lease the aging campus as a community center -- is no longer viable, said the committee, whose members included several former mayors and school board presidents.
If the city-school lease, which expires in 2014, is to be renewed it must contain provisions for longer-term planning and investment, the committee said.
Committee members identified three joint-use arrangements -- in Wadsworth, Emeryville and Livermore -- that could hold lessons for Palo Alto.
In Wadsworth, the shared use, which began last fall with the opening of the new Wadsworth High School, means students easily use the YMCA recreation center after school and are launching programs to go to the senior center to help people learn to use computers.
The key to success in sharing space has been communication, Principal Steve Moore said Wednesday.
"We treat each other as two separate entities, but we do share some of the facilities, and communication is the key to making sure all are aware as to who gets the facility at the appropriate times," Moore said.
"Once we figured it all out, the relationship has been outstanding.
"We have had huge success for both entities and neither one has been truly inconvenienced."
The same architect designed Wadsworth's entire shared campus, said Harry Stark, the city's director of economic development and assistant director of public service.
"The look is very similar and complementary to each other," Stark said.
"During the design and construction, the city and school district worked very closely together on all details.
"The community center has the indoor pools, which the school shares and uses. The schools have the field house and gym courts, which the community shares and uses.
"The interaction between the two entities is to share spaces in order to save money long term during construction as well as maintenance and operations."
Stark described the buildings as "connected but separate."
"The areas are separated by doors that are secured," said Joseph Magnacca, director of facilities for the Wadsworth school district. "They prevent community-center users from entering the school side of the building."
Separate parking lots were built for the different users, but the parties have agreed to shared parking during events, Stark said.
Public reaction has been positive, he said.
Though surveys have not yet been taken, memberships in the senior center and YMCA are at records levels.
In Emeryville, planners said the multi-story $62.7 million Center of Community Life, projected for occupancy in 2015, is designed as a "flexible facility that can adapt over time to a variety of uses."
School areas are designed to be secured and separated from community users during the day, said planner Graham Hill of Nexus Partners, a collaboration of three architecture firms designing and overseeing construction of the project.
The design includes a series of folding gates that can be opened or closed depending on operational agreements.
"One of the biggest challenges for designers was maintaining a sense of openness and a welcoming feeling while still having the ability to secure and enclose certain areas to separate user groups when needed," Hill said.
Planners consulted with school officials and public librarians to design a library that will be shared, Hill said.
In Livermore, a three-agency bond measure approved by more than 81 percent of voters will provide $110 million for school upgrades, $20 million for a joint-use library and $20 million for a youth community center.
The public agencies involved were the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, the City of Livermore and the Livermore Area Park & Recreation District.