The sunlight affirmed the joy that city leaders and Belle Haven neighborhood residents expressed for the project in front of a crowd of about 150 people.
“Having grown up here, it’s warmed my heart and strengthened my commitment to our community to see this first step in creating a new center for well-deserving residents in the city of Menlo Park,” said City Council Member Cecilia Taylor. She represents District 1, which includes Belle Haven.
The ceremony took place at 100 Terminal Ave., where construction crews have spent the past few months demolishing the buildings and swimming pool that formerly stood on the city-owned site. The buildings housed the Menlo Park Senior Center, the Onetta Harris Community Center and the Belle Haven Youth Center.
In 2019, Meta (the company then known as Facebook) offered to build a new facility on the site that would replace the three aging city buildings and provide space for the branch library now located at Belle Haven School. Construction will now begin on the new two-story, 37,000-square-foot building. City officials have estimated the value of the new building at $40 million.
“We’ve heard from the community that there was a need to invest in educational and recreational facilities, and we’re delighted to be here today to celebrate the start of construction on those very facilities,” said Fergus O’Shea, Meta’s director of facilities in Menlo Park.
O’Shea noted that it was 10 years ago this month that the company moved into the neighborhood when it took over the old Sun Microsystems campus at Willow Road and Highway 84. The company’s campus has since expanded to the south side of Highway 84, with plans to extend down along the east side of Willow Road.
Over the next few months, work will begin on the foundation for the new community facility, O’Shea said. In the first half of 2022, the building’s structure will be erected, followed by interior work in the second half of the year. This fly-through video shows what the finished building will look like.
“We look forward to the ribbon-cutting for the building in 2023,” said Juan Salazar, director of local policy and community engagement at Meta.
The completed building will be operated and staffed by the city. Taylor told the crowd that she and fellow council member Betsy Nash have created a working group of community members who will provide input on the programs that will be offered at the new facility, the criteria for choosing a name for the space and ways of enhancing communication efforts about the new facility, among other issues.
“Our community deserves honor, respect, truth and, most importantly, inclusion,” Taylor said.
Several speakers thanked neighborhood residents for persistently pushing for improvements in the city-provided programs and facilities in Belle Haven. The neighborhood is divided from the rest of the city by U.S. Highway 101. The physical separation makes it difficult for many Belle Haven residents to use municipal facilities in other parts of the city.
Neighborhood resident Sheryl Bims said she continued to push for better facilities after seeing current and past residents feel neglected and ignored. “For anyone who has ever looked at a situation and said, ‘I know we can do better, I know collectively we are better than this and I want more for my community,’ you were my inspiration,” Bims said.
She added that she appreciated Meta for “fully committing” to the project, and expressed gratitude to city leaders for investing additional funds in the project. The city dollars will pay for a new pool, improving the building’s energy efficiency and bolstering the building so that it can serve as a Red Cross evacuation center.
“Today, we are making some beautiful history together,” Bims said. “And this project will be a testament to what it looks like when we highly esteem every single part of a municipality.”
This post originally appeared in Belle Haven News; used with permission