Three years after a plan for a landmark building at the edge of College of Marin's Kentfield campus became mired in controversy, a more modestly designed version of the project appears to be moving forward smoothly.
Formerly called the Gateway complex, the re-named New Academic Center will include about 44,000 square feet of classrooms, computer labs, offices and other space in a two-story building at the corner of College Avenue and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. It will take the place of several aging college buildings and the now-shuttered Taqueria Mexican Grill de Marin, all of which will be demolished this summer.
An environmental impact report was released last month, and officials hope to begin construction
shortly after demolition.
Once envisioned at up to 70,000 square feet, the $33 million project is part of the college's $249.5 million bond measure approved by voters in 2004. By 2009 as drawings materialized, the project had been scaled back to 48,000 square feet, but it was still seen as a prominent marker of the campus.
That rubbed some Kentfield residents the wrong way.
"The college is a great asset to the community but to have it stick out like a sore thumb was not something any of us wanted," said Brian O'Connor, co-chairman of Friends of Kentfield, a group of more than 150 people formed several years ago specifically to oppose the design of the college building. "We live in Kentfield for a reason. It's a nice quiet neighborhood."After numerous contentious college board meetings in the winter of 2009-10, officials agreed to hire architects TLCD Architecture of Santa Rosa and Mark Cavagnero Associates of San Francisco.
The project was cut by 4,000 square feet and moved farther back from the street. Attention-grabbing architectural features were replaced with a simpler design.
"Change has to happen, and the change that's happening now, there is going to be enough to modernize the college and get the classroom space they need and not be the eyesore that we were very afraid off," said O'Connor, who supports the new design.
College trustees President Jim Namnath, who opposed the project in his first years as a trustee, said the re-design addresses his concerns. In addition to making the building less conspicuous, the re-design places more emphasis on classrooms as opposed to administrative space, he said.
"Initially, when I was a new trustee I didn't like the Gateway complex much at all, but the grandiose portions are gone," he said. "The functionality, as far as I'm concerned, is there."
An environmental report for the project lists aesthetics among several impacts that need to be addressed under state law. The
report calls for heavy use of trees, vines and other plants to help the building fit in with surroundings.
"They can change the appearance and soften the lines," college modernization director Laura McCarty said of the plants. "It can make the building blend into the arboretum-like campus we have."
Some residents have expressed concerns about language in the environmental report that would send construction trucks through their neighborhood, along Laurel Avenue.
Ellen Gumbiner, who lives in the Granton Park neighborhood in question, said she is suggesting alternative routes.
"We look forward to working cooperatively with the college in evaluating these options and helping plan a solution that does not involve Laurel Avenue," she said.
McCarty said project planners are open to input on the issue.
"We will be inviting a community representative to work together with us on the details of the construction plan," she said.