Burlingame officials pushed ahead with approving plans for a new Recreation Center, despite the cost for the facility jumping by about $10 million from original projections.

The Burlingame City Council unanimously approved, with Councilwoman Ann Keighran absent, schematic designs for the new center slated to replace the existing facility abutting Washington Park.

Under the decision, the first phase of construction work on nearby sports courts and playgrounds is slated to begin in the summer, while specific facility plans are developed with an eye on breaking ground in 2020.

Noting the trend of rising construction costs, officials questioned the projected budget for the center, which has jumped to $50 million from earlier this year when it was expected to cost between $38 million and $41 million.

Dawn Merkes, who represents Group 4 architecture, attempted to assuage concerns regarding further cost escalations by suggesting the initial projection may not have considered the full scope of work.

“I feel very, very comfortable these numbers are the final numbers,” said Merkes.

Officials noted though there are additional amenities planned for the facility, such as more parking spaces, photovoltaic cells and a green roof on the building, which are desired and not included in the overall budget.

Vice Mayor Donna Colson suggested some of those costs could be paid down by community fundraising, which would require additional planning and outreach from officials.

The project was initially planned to be financed through revenue generated by a recent sales tax hike. But with costs rising, Mayor Michael Brownrigg suggested more discussion is in order around the funding.

“I still think we need to meet to understand the capital plan,” he said.

City Manager Lisa Goldman agreed, and suggested a financial advisor could be available during a future meeting to discuss details of the payment plan.

Despite the cost escalations, officials were largely supportive of the project which has been planned and discussed for years.

“The process has been wonderful,” said Councilman Ricardo Ortiz. “I think that we are going in the right direction, so I’m all in favor of it.”

Should the plan unfold as expected, officials hope the new facility will open in 2022.

In other news at the meeting, a representative from the Burlingame Aquatic Club detailed the difficulties the organization has experienced in the wake of the pool at Burlingame High School going under construction.

Executive Director Sylvia Lam said enrollment and revenue dropped so precipitously since work started in June that the future of the club may be in jeopardy, unless the pool is brought back in short order.

“With our limited reserves, the Burlingame Aquatic Club will have about 12 months before we have to do more consolidations,” said Lam, who detailed the variety of deep programmatic and staff cuts which have already been implemented to keep the club operating.

The source of the difficulty for the club is work at the pool on the Burlingame High School campus started by the San Mateo Union High School District, which owns the facility and shares maintenance and operations costs with the city. The city outsources programming and scheduling to the club, which serves community members when student athletes aren’t using the water.

During scheduled summer maintenance work, contractors discovered structural flaws with the pool shell and recommended high school district officials approve rebuilding the facility. The school board recently agreed, and directed staff to begin the reconstruction process.

While the pool is offline, club officials have scrambled to move their programs elsewhere. But considering the difficulty with scheduling and inconvenience of traveling to neighboring facilities, Lam said many club members left.

“It was very challenging for our staff and our customers,” said Lam.

For her part, Goldman said city officials are committed to working with their colleagues at the school district to get the facility back online quickly.

“We are hoping to get the pool up and running sooner than later,” she said.

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(1) comment

Cindy Cornell

Who could possibly be surprised. Who could possibly be surprised by another 10 or 20 million tacked on by the time it is opened? We have no idea how many people will actually use this facility, nor do we even know what the expected operating costs will be. A small group of people in Burlingame decided to push for this instead of remodeling what we had or making this much smaller in scale. By the way, we still have no affordable housing. Perhaps the center can be used after hours for families who have become homeless in Burlingame to sleep in.

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