Millbrae officials largely lauded the most recent plans for the new recreation center, while maintaining some reservations regarding designs of the proposed community hub.

The Millbrae Planning Commission reviewed during a meeting Monday, July 15, a proposal for the nearly 26,000-square-foot center proposed to be rebuilt at the site of its predecessor that was destroyed by arsonists.

Commissioners expressed their admiration of the design proposal as it advances through the schematic planning phase ahead of a final decision this fall on strategies for financing construction.

“It’s beautiful. I mean, I’ve seen it in every stage and obviously it is evolving as we move along and more details are coming in and it gets more beautiful every time,” said Commissioner Maureen Davis, according to video of the meeting. “I cannot wait to be inside of it.”

Commissioner Jean Joh echoed such a sentiment.

“I concur,” she said. “I think it looks really beautiful.”

Praise for the proposal was not unanimous though, as some commissioners raised questions over plans to build room upstairs for seniors.

Commission Chair Anders Fung expressed a variety of concerns regarding the proposal to install a chair lift system for seniors to get down the stairs in the case of an elevator malfunction.

Rather than rely on an inefficient system which would only accommodate one rider at a time, Fung suggested planners look to build a second elevator.

But project lead Dawn Merkes, of Group 4 Architecture, said a second elevator would be uncommon for a similarly-sized facility, especially at the additional cost it would require to build. Merkes said a second elevator could cost between $300,000 and $400,000 for a facility which officials are already scrambling to finance.

Ultimately, Fung backed away from his position, but his concerns regarding the safety of seniors upstairs mirror many similar sentiments which have been raised by other officials throughout the design process.

Deputy City Manager DeAnna Hilbrants said the senior community is split on the proposal to reserve upstairs space, as some favor detachment from the bustling downstairs while others fear isolating those with limited mobility in case of an emergency.

Planners balanced those concerns by noting that the senior space upstairs would only be designed to serve a handful of people at a time, and that most of the large gathering areas would be downstairs.

Looking ahead at next steps, officials are still nailing down a strategy for funding construction. A low-interest loan has been discussed with county officials, which would allow work to start soon — avoiding further budget escalations tied to rising Bay Area construction costs.

Most recent projections suggest the facility will cost about $30 million, and Hilbrants said officials are also in the process of discussing other fundraising initiatives such as naming rights and sponsorships which will raise additional capital.

Between insurance payments from the previous center, developer contributions and a variety of other sources, the city has collected about $12 million for the new center. Officials are looking to raise the money independently, following the failure of a ballot measure proposed to finance construction.

Should the requisite revenue be generated, the project bids could be rewarded this fall and construction is planned to finish in time for a grand opening in 2022.

For her part, Joh said she looks forward to completing the facility, as Millbrae has gone three years since the previous facility was burned down.

“It will be great to have it done,” she said.

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