HomeCity Weighs Public Opinion on Update of S.M. Center

City Weighs Public Opinion on Update of S.M. Center

The city continues its outreach over a proposal to update and upgrade the San Marino Center as well as to coax residents to offer design ideas for the facility, with the next step tentatively scheduled for a Sept. 9 City Council meeting.
A task force appointed by the city plans to present a series of recommendations to municipal officials at that meeting, suggestions that are likely to be relayed to designers at Crane Architectural Services to draw up plans for the remodel. The city aims to revamp the building to function more as a community center and bring it up to various codes.
Residents are expected to receive a project fact sheet along with a survey in the mail this week. Video tours and other information are available on the city’s website, under a tab for the San Marino Center. Officials have also presented information and solicited input at several public meetings, including two town hall gatherings and sessions involving the Lacy Park Landscape Committee, the Design Review Committee, the Library Board of Trustees, the San Marino Unified School District Board of Education and the Planning Commission.
The San Marino City Club, Rotary Club of San Marino and Chinese Club of San Marino also have invited officials to make presentations at their meetings this month. The task force includes Al Boegh, Raymond Cheng, John Chou, Toby Chou, Steve Domier, Jaime Gertmenian, Jennifer Giles, Angela Liang and Calvin Lo.
“I’m really impressed at the broad spectrum of the city and expertise that has pulled together in this task force,” said Domier, who serves on the library board.
Domier, recalling the early conversations that ultimately gave the city Crowell Public Library, said the city had actually considered a community center in the past. When the city purchased the Stoneman School building from the school district, it ran the Recreation Department from that location. However, city officials have recently balked at the price tag of bringing that structure up to code and current standards.
As the conversation of retooling the Recreation Department developed, relocating it to a remodeled San Marino Center presented itself as a way of extracting the city’s fingerprints from Stoneman, freeing up other options for the historic structure.
With that in mind, Domier said the task force was committed to crafting as thoughtful a plan for the San Marino Center as possible.
“We don’t want to hodgepodge something,” he said. “We want something that is well designed. We’re not going to please everybody, but years down the line we want to make sure that the structure is aesthetically pleasing, harmonious to the area and will serve the needs of the community for many years to come.”
Recent conversations that have produced a split consensus, for now, include the architectural style of the building — should it remain midcentury or be converted to Spanish colonial to match its neighbors? — as well as how its outdoor area should be utilized and whether to keep the stage inside.
“To us, this is a city asset and we need to get the best use out of it,” said Cheng, an architect who was recently appointed to the Design Review Committee after a long tenure with the Planning Commission. “That building has a lot of history. It’s almost a perfect location for a city center. It’s in walking distance and families can drop off their kids there. The schools are there. The library is right next door. Some of the spaces and amenities can be shared. It’s the perfect opportunity to tie for core library to the center into a community center, per se.”
Residents who joined in this week’s town hall meeting, too, were curious about the outside aesthetic. The current work estimate of around $4 million includes morphing the building to reflect the Spanish colonial look; City Manager Marcella Marlowe added at the meeting that it adds around $500,000 to the price tag.
“When we consider the two options that are before us, it would probably be useful for residents giving their input to fully understand that changing the style to a fully Spanish-style look is going to cost a lot more than retaining the existing outer structure,” opined Joyce Gatsoulis Batnij, a member of the Design Review Committee.
The City Council agreed to contract with Crane, a Fullerton-based firm that had previously evaluated potential work on Stoneman, in July in part to have designers on hand for these outreach sessions. The decision elicited some controversy at the time, as the city employed an exception to its bidding process code that allows a no-bid professional services contract under certain circumstances.
The process also has confused some residents who have joined these outreach sessions believing that it was time to look at drawings already.
“Think of all of us as that group that’s just hired an architect and is looking to provide direction to that architect about what we’re looking for,” Community Development Director Aldo Cervantes said at the town hall. “That’s kind of where we are at the moment.”
For their part, Domier and Cheng agreed it was advantageous to have a firm participate in their meetings and the outreach sessions.
“You’re trying to take input from everybody,” Domier added. “They’re on the calls and they hear the responses. We don’t want to be playing telephone with this whole thing.”

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