Cañada athletic facility

A rendering of the athletic facility under construction at Cañada College.

San Mateo County Community College District officials are pleased with the progress made attempting to ameliorate the concerns of school community members frustrated with the design of a new athletic facility.

The district Board of Trustees discussed Monday, Dec. 9, the ongoing effort by administrators to address issues raised by Cañada College students and faculty who fear space for their interests will be squeezed out by a for-profit gym.

No decision was made at the meeting, but board President Karen Schwarz said she was heartened to hear advancements are occurring as the two sides work through more than one dozen identified issues with the facility.

“I think there’s been quite a bit of progress,” said Schwarz.

The new 85,000-square-foot kinesiology and wellness facility is under construction, and expected to open in fall 2021. It is planned to accommodate classrooms for health and wellness activities, space for fitness equipment, a basketball gym, offices, swimming pools and a private gym to be operated by a third party, among other amenities.

Similar to the San Mateo Athletic Club in the health and wellness building on the College of San Mateo campus, the building will house educational and administrative space for the school as well as a private gym operated by Exos, a separate company.

Examining designs for the site, those concerned fear the gym component is taking over a majority of the site, according to a letter addressed to district officials released in October.

“The plans looked like space is being [hijacked] by the for-profit membership athletic club,” said the letter. “The space is needed for our academic classes for college students, surrounding high school students, middle college students and community members.”

In previous discussions, officials dedicated a commitment to meeting the educational obligations of the district, while also keeping an eye to operational finances. The San Mateo athletic facility generates millions annually for the school system’s budget.

Since the letter was issued, trustees have expressed a desire to see Cañada administrators and concerned members of the school community work through their differences and reach some consensus on how the building can serve a variety of needs. Following a series of discussions, Schwarz said she is optimistic compromises by both sides will be made.

“I feel both sides are willing to do that,” she said, regarding the ability for the parties to be flexible.

She balanced that perspective though by noting some of the differences of opinion could have been avoided had more outreach been conducted before work on the building started. Schwarz said many school community members expressed their displeasure that they had not been consulted more thoroughly in advance of ground breaking. Recognizing those concerns, she said the ability to amend the designs are limited at this stage of the construction project.

“I’m sorry about that. It shouldn’t have happened that way,” she said. “But it did, and we are trying to correct that.”

She also suggested that more attention may be focused on the facility as it rises on the hilltop over Interstate 280 and becomes more visible.

“Some people don’t pay attention until a building goes up,” she said.

As construction is underway though and all sides of the issue continue working through their differences, Schwarz expressed hopefulness that the opposing parties will grow closer to identifying a design that accommodates the needs of all.

“My sense of it is, if they keep talking and keep discussing it, we will get there,” she said.

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