About Greg Wilson

A software engineer/Mobile app development evangelist/Technical writer who enjoys books, Disneyland, and the slow pace and backyard vistas you only get when traveling by train.

It’s Fun to Stay at the…

YMCA! (Do you now have that Village People song running through your head? I do…)

Doing what I do, for as long as I’ve been doing it — this is blog post number 291, a number to which you should add the 71 columns I’ve written so far specifically for the San Mateo Daily Journal (my columns appear in the Opinion section of the weekend edition of the paper, both in print and online) — it is easy for me to lose track of just what I have and have not written about. Often I think that I’ve written about something, but a bit of searching then reveals that indeed I have not. One such topic, the main one for this week, is the Veterans Memorial Building/Senior Center-YMCA project.

In my defense, although I’ve been monitoring the status of this project since its early days, I’ve been allowing the project planning to mature. Now, though, with the design and the project EIR pretty much finalized, and with the Planning Commission having recently recommended the project to the City Council for approval — something that in my mind is a foregone conclusion (it’ll come before the City Council on December 16) — it finally seems time to write about this truly fascinating project.

The Veterans Memorial Building/Senior Center-YMCA project, in case you aren’t familiar with it, is a public/private partnership between Redwood City and the Sequoia YMCA to replace the existing Veterans Memorial Building Senior Center complex, located on the Madison Avenue side of Red Morton Park, with two new buildings: a new Veterans Memorial Senior Center building, and a new YMCA building (the Sequoia YMCA is currently located on Hudson Street adjacent to Palm Park; they plan to move from their existing location once their new building is completed). This project would also involve revamping and extending the existing parking lots on that side of the park, along with substantial changes to the roadways, landscaping, and hardscaping in the vicinity of the project.

The project would result in the removal of some 55,000 square feet of existing facilities: the Senior Center, the nearby Resource Building, the VMSC Annex, the Sid Herkner Pool, and the NFL Alumni Association building. These five would be replaced by two buildings that would total some 80,000 square feet in size. For those who are not familiar with what exists there today — if you are neither a senior nor a veteran, and if you’ve never had cause to swim in the Herkner Pool — let me show you the buildings that would be removed. All are arrayed along Madison Avenue, between St. Francis and Hawes streets.

First up, the one labeled “Veterans Memorial Building”:

Then, the adjacent “Veterans Memorial Senior Center”:

Then, across the stub of Nevada Street that intrudes upon the park, there is the VMSC Annex:

Up against the Annex is the Sid Herkner Pool building:

And finally, there is the little NFL Alumni Association building:

The nature of the partnership is such that the city will build their building, and much of the hardscaping, landscaping, and parking. The YMCA will build their own building separately, a building that they will pay for, along with half of the common area costs. The project will be done in phases, with the city going first and the YMCA starting their part of the project once the new Veterans Memorial Senior Center building is complete and operational. This works out nicely, since the city’s new building will replace the Annex, the pool, and the NFL building, leaving the existing Senior Center in place and operating while construction goes on. Then, when the new building is complete and the existing Senior Center activities have been moved into it, “Phase 2” of the project will see the YMCA replacing the old, then empty, Senior Center with their new building.

The buildings that we’re getting, especially compared with the aging buildings that stand there today, should be quite spectacular. Scroll back up a bit and take a look at the existing two-story Annex building. Then compare it with this, which is rendered from the corner of Madison Avenue and Nevada Street:

This rendering shows the new Veterans Memorial building/Senior Center. And, incidentally, it shows the new “promenade,” which should be a delightful walkway from Madison Avenue to the entrance of this new building and beyond into the heart of the park. This promenade will replace that stub of Nevada Street that is there today.

As you can see, the new building will be two stories in height. It will feature a 270-seat theater, a gymnasium, a running track and garden terrace on the rooftop (of the first floor, though; I’ll get to that in a moment), a kitchen, a lounge/game room, rooms for adaptive PE and wellness, and a number of multi-purpose rooms. There will also be some outside seating (note the yellow umbrellas and the people sitting under and near them in the above rendering). The building will also have a conference room and a corridor with displays dedicated to the NFL Alumni Association. What it won’t have, and what we’ll lose the use of until the YMCA building is open and operating, is a pool. But as if to make up for that, the YMCA building will have two of them, one indoor and one outdoor.

Here is a rendering showing this same building from the rear, from the edge of 49ers Field (which will remain):

In the center, you can see that a portion of the building’s second story is open to the air. That is where the running track and “rooftop” garden (which will be a community garden, to make up for the one that is currently located behind the NFL Alumni building) are located. To the left of that is the gymnasium, which is two stories tall. The right side of the L-shaped building has no windows: this is where the theater is located. And on the face of the theater, see that large white panel facing the field? That is simply a relatively smooth, light-colored surface that can act as a movie screen, if the city decides it wants to host outdoor movies in this space.

Not shown in the above rendering is one other addition that will be constructed along with this building: a new 55-space parking lot, located to the right of the theater and accessible from Madison Avenue where Hawes Street meets it.

As you might expect, this building has been designed using the latest energy-efficient techniques and technologies. To the greatest extent possible the building will rely upon passive ventilation — solar chimneys, natural ventilation, thermal mass and solar mitigation — to keep the building as comfortable as possible while not using energy to do so. On particularly hot or cold days, though, the building will have a large central heat pump that should keep interior temperatures within the desired range. The all-electric building will have solar panels on the roof, which together with the efficient heating and cooling system should make this a “net zero energy” building: one that uses no more energy than it produces. Finally, the building will include some number of backup batteries that will help keep the building functional during the event of a major emergency in which power is interrupted: the city intends for this building to serve as an emergency shelter if necessary.

Recognizing that when this project is completely done the addition of the YMCA to the property will result in more traffic, especially along Madison Avenue, as the city builds its portion of the project it will also be implementing a traffic calming project along that street and others. Among other things, they plan to install a roundabout at the intersection of Vera Avenue and Valota Road, install a traffic circle (which is a smaller version of a roundabout) at Madison Avenue and Myrtle Street, and rework the existing traffic circle at the intersection of Hudson Street and Madison Avenue.

It is important to note that this project is being done in phases. Although the Environmental Impact Report was written for the entire project (both phases), what the Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend, and what the City Council will be considering for final approval, is only the first phase of the project, the part that will be done entirely by the city. The YMCA’s portion of the project, including its plans and renderings, will be submitted at a later date, at which point I plan to write about it. But even just considering this phase 1, this is going to be a tremendous upgrade to what is there today, and will be a real asset to the city.


I was interested to know that the storefront in the Sequoia Hotel building that until recently was home to Eckankar is now campaign headquarters for our own Shelly Masur, current member of Redwood City’s Council and candidate for Jerry Hill’s seat in the California Senate.

And on the subject of politics, it’s time for Redwood City to select a new mayor. Next Monday, December 9, the primary focus of the City Council meeting will be a recognition of Ian Bain, our outgoing mayor, and the installation of our next mayor, Diane Howard, and vice mayor, Shelly Masur. The regular meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Redwood City Council Chambers (1017 Middlefield Road) but if you are going, get there early: starting at 6:30 p.m. in the building’s lobby there will be a reception with hors d’oeuvres and refreshments, a reception that is open to all. Oh, and apparently cake and coffee will be served after the regular meeting adjourns (a meeting that will be quite short, compared with their typical meetings).