The San Marino City Council approved a renovation project for the San Marino Center at its regular meeting last Friday morning by a vote of 3-2. The decision launched a construction contract with CABD Construction, a construction management contract with Griffin Structures and an agreement with Kizh Nation for Native American monitoring services.
Vice Mayor Steve Talt and council member Ken Ude joined Mayor Susan Jakubowski in supporting the project while council members Gretchen Shepherd Romey and Dr. Steven Huang opposed the proposal, which added up to a total of $8.364 million and includes almost $825,000 in expenses that have already been incurred.
The vision for the San Marino Center project began in 2020, after a staff presentation to the City Council at its April meeting about reconceptualizing recreation programming to be more focused on community building activities than individual benefit class activities. With the Council’s support for that shift — including direction in 2020 to transition the city’s preschool program to a third-party provider — it was determined that this new recreation program would fit better at the San Marino Center than the much larger Stoneman facility.
The process has moved forward steadily despite twists and turns relating to design and environmental impact. Ude pointed out last week that the city’s total reserve is up to $45 million and that the project was affordable.
In its current layout, the building can accommodate as many as 300 people and is available to rent for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. The facility has three main rooms: an auditorium, dining room and the Fireside Room, which is used for smaller events and meetings.
The facility currently also includes an industrial kitchen, although the stove was removed years ago due to disrepair. The renovation project anticipates a conversion to a catering-style kitchen, which the San Marino Center Renovation Task Force — a varied group of community members who have been working on this project with the city for two years — expected to be more efficient for the facility, based on both previous and projected usage.
San Marino City Club holds most of its meetings in the San Marino Center, and in non-pandemic times, the building is also used for a weekly bridge game.
Ude and Talt served as the city council’s liaisons to the project.
“I think the city needs a community center, where residents can meet and gather,” Ude said early this week. “The San Marino Center is 70 years old and has been ignored for years. Since the Center was determined to be a ‘historic building,’ we can’t tear it down or change its exterior in any way. The only thing we can do is refurbish it. The deferred maintenance requirement is approximately $6 million. So, to spend a bit more to do it right and make a Community Campus between the Library and the San Marino Center was a no-brainer for me. Moreover, we have over $45 million in total reserves, so we can easily afford this project.”
“A refurbished San Marino Center will provide many great opportunities for our residents,” he said. “Not only will it provide a much-needed community gathering location for meetings and social events, but it will also become a safe and secure location for seniors and children’s recreation programs. It’s been 17 years in the making, and I am pleased that it is finally moving forward.”
Once all contracts are approved, construction is expected to begin in September and will take approximately 130 working days, according to the city’s staff report. Once construction is complete, the city’s recreation staff will move to the San Marino Center and programming and rentals will recommence.
The project was not without its detractors, as many residents voiced their objections to a refurbished San Marino Center based largely on its total cost and the perception that the community was not involved enough in the design and development of this project.
That assertion was addressed by Jakubowski, who used her speaking time to remind those in attendance that the city had done considerable outreach and engagement and to express her hurt that those present had refused to get involved during the past two years and only voiced their thoughts at the 11th hour.