News

Fixes on the way for popular Baylands attraction

Palo Alto looks to repair, enhance Baylands Interpretive Center

Perched on wooden pilings in Palo Alto's serene marshland, the Lucy Evans Baylands Interpretive Center is a celebration of nature -- a place where students learn about local bird species and where nesting barn swallows propagate.

But nature hasn't always been kind to this popular, 46-year-old attraction. Weatherworn and under-maintained, the wooden building off Embarcadero Road is showing signs of decay, with the trim around the roof now badly deteriorated and the wood on its siding and decking cracked and peeling in some sections, particularly those facing west.

"You can see ... that sun, wind, rain and birds have taken their tolls on both the siding and decking around the building," Tiffany Redding, the city's consultant from the firm FOG Studio, said during last week's meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission, at which she showed slides of damaged wood.

Now, as the city is moving ahead with renovating the beloved building, the goal is to improve the facility without modifying its Baylands-friendly character. In the coming months, city officials plan to complete the design for rehabilitating and improving the Interpretive Center and obtain the needed work permits with the goal of launching construction in 2016.

The project, which also includes an upgrade to electrical systems and a redesign of the building's bathroom, has an estimated cost of $582,485. The City Council approved the expenditures last year, when it passed its capital budget for fiscal year 2016.

At the same time, the city is looking ahead to repairing the damaged boardwalk that rolls out from the building and overlooks the salt marsh. A recent analysis by the firm Biggs Cardosa determined that the boardwalk is in "serious condition," with several portions in need of urgent replacement or repair. While the sections of the boardwalk closest to and furthest from the center are in fairly decent shape, the firm found, the central portion was deemed to be badly damaged. Several elements in this portion have "failed," the firm determined, with several posts having broken off.

Staff has already done some basic repairs to the first overlook point, which has been closed off to the public since spring 2014. Last week, the 200 feet of the boardwalk nearest to the building was reopened to the public, said Darren Anderson, manager in the Community Services Department.

In the months ahead, staff, the Parks and Recreation Commission and, ultimately, the City Council will determine whether the boardwalk should be repaired, rehabilitated or replaced. Staff from the Community Services Department expects to see a council decision early next year.

Work on the building, meanwhile, should begin sooner than that. During the Oct. 27 presentation, Parks and Recreation commissioners and consultants from FOG Studio agreed to keep any changes subtle.

"The building right now fits well in with the Baylands, and I think that was the direction -- to keep a building that has that character," said Brandon Marshall, also of FOG Studio.

Even so, staff and FOG Studio are proposing some changes to the building. One is to reconfigure the bathroom, a project that will include a new "communal sink" to accommodate large groups of kids from a visiting class (according to the Community Services Department, the Interpretive Center and the adjacent Baylands serve about 129 classes and camps, 2,000 elementary students and 80,000 visitors annually). Another proposal is to add a transparent panel in the decking so that children and visitors of short stature will be able to see through the railing.

And the city is paying particularly close attention to the nesting swallows, whose droppings have been causing damage to the building's wooden interior. City staff have been mapping out popular nesting areas. The plan is to seal off these areas with soffit boards to both accommodate the swallows' preference and to limit the number of cavities in the building where swallows can establish their nests.

John Aiken, who oversees the interpretive exhibits at the Baylands center, said that in addition to increasing the city's control over where the nest colonies are, staff is also considering opening up areas of the deckings so that droppings can drop through.

"That has the double benefit of allowing kids to see down in the marsh and look under the building and notice that you're on the piers," Aiken told the commission. "It might be an interesting aspect."

The commission had mostly praise for all the work done to date on fixing up the aged building. Commissioner Ed Lauing praised staff and consultants for a "terrific effort on all the stuff relative to swallows."

"It's a lot of meticulous work on everyone's part to allow birds and people to live happily ever after," Lauing said.

Commissioners Deirdre Crommie and Abby Knopper agreed, with Crommie calling it a "really important project." At the same time, Crommie said she was concerned about the proposal to install a glass or plastic "vision panel," noting that such features often get dirty pretty quickly and suggesting that the city instead consider viewing slots in the deck.

Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, also praised the project and thanked the city for its efforts to keep the nesting swallows in the building. She recommended that any glass or plexiglass in the building be bird-friendly. This, she said, means adding subtle ceramic lines in the glass to help birds see the structure.

"I don't think it's a huge investment, but it's important to have that," Kleinhaus said.

Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2015 at 8:06 am

I am delighted to hear that progress is being made here.

Please can we have some trail signs and maps for visitors too. I am constantly asked by non local visitors for directions to bathrooms or the or the other side of the park, how long a trail is or where's the nearest coffee/snack shop.


20 people like this
Posted by T. Will
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2015 at 10:47 am

This is great news! The city's Interpretive Center and the Environmental Volunteers' EcoCenter are two excellent environmental education resources in the Baylands. Glad to hear the IC will receive much needed repair.


5 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2015 at 10:55 am

>> At the same time, the city is looking ahead to repairing the damaged boardwalk that rolls out from the building and overlooks the salt marsh.

YES ! GREAT IDEA !

That's probably the only real reason people went onto that dilapidated guano-covered shack anyway. ;-)

I remember walking way out there on the pilings for PG&E to the left and right of the main boardwalk. It was great, before everything was so "safe" and monitored by police, or had to be monitored by police. You could go out there at any time and walk way out under the electrical towers. All you had to do was to raise the handrails like a bar counter to the bartender station.

Palo Alto used to be a lot more fun. About a year and a half ago I was pulled over by the police for just driving out to the Baylands a bit too early to take a walk ... it was still dark thanks to the time change. I am sure Palo Alto is much safer for that.


12 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2015 at 11:42 am

Gethin is a registered user.

This is excellent news! I have to admit the boardwalk is dearer to my heart so I hope that gets fixed and opened as soon as possible.


5 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 6, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Been there literally dozens of times and it has never been open. Hundreds walk by. Not open. Better to knock the place down and erect open air exhibits. That way everyone could learn, at all hours, every day. Spend the saved money on repairing and maintaining the rest of the area including the truly dreadful state of the overflowing sewage in the area leading to the launch site. Instead, PA wants an ugly expensive intrusive failed monument to someone who would probably have recognized its failure, and that it attracts dozens of swallows which shouldn't be there.


7 people like this
Posted by LizzyBell
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2015 at 12:33 pm

So excited about the renovation. Viewing slots are great for bird watching. Birds tend to hit glass when flying in. Are there volunteer opportunities to help in the restoration and or when it opens again?


12 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2015 at 3:00 pm

It's all great, just wish the work could be accelerated. Take a look at the long drawn-out timeline...


6 people like this
Posted by RU Bored or RU Boring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 7, 2015 at 7:33 am

@Plane Speaker, just yesterday I did a PG&E walk you said you "used to do" when Palo Alto was "More fun".
It was good fun, no issues. Now I'm no zen master, but the fun may not have left Palo Alto, the fun may have left you. No matter what time from the late 60's until now we always had to watch for police at certain times, but it was part of gig. As like your early morning experience we were never cited so it was just some talking too now and then. The only time I was stopped on the power-pole walk was back in the late 80's.


2 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 2:07 pm


>> @Plane Speaker, just yesterday I did a PG&E walk you said you "used to do" when Palo Alto was "More fun".

Where did you access the boardwalk, down by the boat/sailboard launch?

My point though is that you could not have taken the walk I used to. The last time I checked people could not get out to the boardwalk from the Nature Center. The boardwalk out the observation platform is a real hazard per the facts in this article. I was not talking about taking any real personal risk, and the access to the PG&E boardwalk was not gated off with hurricane fencing as it is today.

Myself and friends used to go out the Baylands after dark all the time and the police never came around except once in a while to patrol to make sure there were no crimes occurring or danger, not to tell people to leave or give them trespassing tickets. Then in the late 80's there was some crime and vandalism that ruined it for everyone.

Palo Alto was definitely more fun back then, when adults could make adult decisions for themselves, and the facts I cited prove my case.

>> the fun may not have left Palo Alto, the fun may have left you.

Questioning my "funlovingness" is not fun for me. Next time you go to the Baylands leave that chip in your shoulder out there to compost.


8 people like this
Posted by GladBut
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 6:19 pm

I'm glad to see that it is finally getting attention. But seriously. Does the process really have to be:

- Raise money bonds or gifts
- Build
- Enjoy
- Ignore
- Keep ignoring
- Allow to fall apart
- Continue to allow to fall apart
- Debate whether how we let it fall apart
- Argue if we should really fix things or just tear them down.
- Decide to repair
- Spend years on studies and budget cycles
- Spend an inordinate amount of money on what WOULD HAVE BEEN simple maintenance
- Repeat


10 people like this
Posted by William Warrior
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2015 at 10:53 pm

So glad to read of the proposed restoration. It is worth it to restore the interpretive center and the boardwalk regardless of the time and expense and the cowtowing to the "Palo Alto Process." I walked the boardwalk countless times in my youth in the 1970s. The site was a welcome escape to another world of early California like the Ohlone knew California, and very much my guiding light to my future career choices of serving our indigenous animal communities by applying for and winning a place in the City of Palo Alto Animal Services Division of the Palo Alto Police Department. The Interpretive Center was the first meeting place for instruction of the first volunteers in the newly founded Wildlife Rescue Inc. Palo Alto in 1974. I remember Gary Bogue of Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum giving us heartfelt, sardonic and practical lectures in the care and rehabilitation of orphaned and injured indigenous species, and the room filled to capacity with willing volunteer applicants. The Baylands Interpretive Center, its boardwalks and surroundings are a learning lab for all ages and an inspiration for future generations committed to serving the life of our San Francisco Bay. Long may Palo Alto serve her part in San Francisco Bay's preservation for all time.


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