Fatigued gym to get in shape

After more than 30 years, the Burgess gymnasium is showing signs of its age — tiny practice rooms, a failing ventilation system and not enough room for the 8,000 athletes who use it regularly.

Due to its age, the gymnasium at 501 Laurel St. is slated for a major overhaul. During the next six months, city leaders will talk with gym users and residents to find out what the facility needs — and how big it needs to be. All options are on the table, including renovation and expansion or complete replacement of the building, Public Works Director Kent Steffens said.

Funding for the project would come from Measure T, the $38 million bond passed in 2001 to pay for parks and recreation improvements. Already, the bond has funded renovations at several city parks, including Burgess Park, and the $6.8 million renovation of the Burgess Pool, completed last year.

“Right now, the building is OK, but, like any old building, it needs new lighting, new plumbing and needs to be expanded,” Recreation Director Barbara Santos George said. “In the summer, sometimes it gets too warm and there are days when we have to shut it down.”

The City Council approved a $155,000 contract Tuesday with Field Paoli Architects, which will study what the new or upgraded gym would need. Gymnasts have said they need more space and teens want more room to work out after school, George said.

For now, it’s unclear how much upgrading Burgess will cost, but Measure T has roughly $25 million remaining, Steffens said. Menlo Park has set aside $1.25 million in its 2007-08 budget for Burgess-related work.

Menlo Park leaders have been talking about upgrading its Burgess facilities since 1999, and adopted an environmental review of those plans in 2003. That review included the possibility of expanding the gym, though it did not study the possibility of a new building.

Mayor Andrew Cohen said it’s important to expand the city’s public facilities as Menlo Park grows — and that it’s time for leaders to think of creative ways to make enough space for everyone.

“I come from New York, where we used to play in gyms that were at least two stories high,” Cohen said. “I wouldn’t want to build another 8,000 square feet on the bottom level — I’d put two stories or maybe more.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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