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City works with Friends, residents to form plan for new flexible public gym

Palo Alto discusses location while Friends group fundraises to support construction costs
Art by River Wu

Palo Alto’s Community Services Department and the Friends of Palo Alto Recreation & Wellness Center are collaborating to build the city’s first public gym.

The construction of the gym will be a public-private partnership where the city would provide the land, while the Friends group would fundraise to support the estimated $33 million construction cost of the gym.

While the location of the gym and the construction schedule have not yet been decided, the city is currently considering building the gym at Greer Park or Cubberley.

Jeff LaMere, a former Parks and Recreation commissioner, Friends board member and varsity basketball coach, said the new exercise area should fulfill the city’s need for an indoor public space, which was proposed in the 2017 Parks and Recreation Master Plan. 

And Palo Alto Director of Community Services Kristen O’Kane said the city envisions the center to be a multi-use space.

“We could host a variety of different programs and classes in those spaces from yoga to Zumba to programs for people with different abilities,” O’Kane said. “We’re really hoping to provide programs to as many people in the city as possible.”

O’Kane also said the gyms used by the city of Palo Alto’s recreational programs are at Cubberley and leased from PAUSD.

“We don’t own any of our own gyms to provide programs and services to residents of Palo Alto for youth and adults,” O’Kane said. “It would be a great benefit to the community by providing more space for wellness programs for people of all ages and abilities to have space to gather to develop their fitness, both physically and their overall mental health.”

Judy Kleinberg, a member of Friends, said the organization will work with the city, the residents of Palo Alto and various athletic groups to decide on the type and location of the gym.

“We’re going to make it as flexible a building as possible so that it can grow with the interests of the community and the needs of the community,” Kleinberg said. “It would be the kind of building that would not age out in terms of use.”

Senior and varsity basketball player Aiden Hangebrauck said he thinks a public gym could increase the physical and mental well-being of the community, especially impacting students.

“A lot of people, both in high school and middle school, want an affordable option that is open good hours,” Hangebrauck said. “They don’t want to go to a gym where they’d see a lot of their classmates — they want something more private. Spacing out where everybody in Palo Alto goes to the gym would have a good impact.”

O’Kane said location is an important consideration for the project and that each site, Greer Park and Cubberly, both have their pros and cons.

“A downside with using Greer Park is that we would be putting a building in an existing park,” O’Kane said. “The downside of Cubberley is that it’s a big site, and ideally we would want to develop the whole site at one time. But the benefit of Cubberley is that there’s already access (and) parking there. It’s already a developed site, so it wouldn’t be taking existing parkland, it would just be improving the site from where it is today.”

According to Kleinberg, teenagers in Palo Alto 30 years ago had no access to public gyms after school hours, which is what inspired her to join the Friends group to help build a public gym.

“We are such an asset-rich community,” Kleinberg said “It is really quite amazing and disappointing that we don’t have a public facility that we own and can control to make available to our residents for their physical well-being.”

Kleinberg also said it is a core part of the community to have an empowering space open to all, which is why creating this gym is necessary.

“We’ve been waiting 30 years and longer for a place, particularly for youth, to work out,” Kleinberg said. “It’s high time.”

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