Saying the decision was not easily made, the Community Project's (CCP) Board of Directors nonetheless voted unanimously Wednesday, September 17 to construct a completely new Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, rather than attempt to restore an existing three-story Queen Anne Victorian on the Market Street property.
The CCP board meeting was attended by about 40 people, and speakers were divided on the issue of whether or not renovate the 103-year-old dilapidated Victorian. A three-month feasibility study conducted by a team of architects and engineers concluded that renovating the Victorian building would not be fiscally prudent. One of the key findings was that such renovation would cost between $1.6 and $2.6 million, compared to the original estimate of $650,000. The CCP has already had to increase its capital campaign goal to raise $3.5 million because the project's overall budget has increased; that doesn't include renovating the Victorian.
Architects Jane Cee and Peter Pfau, who conducted the feasibility study and submitted the winning community center design, said that keeping the Victorian would reduce usable space in the planned 41,000 square foot center by up to 25 percent.
"Our original plan was to renovate the Victorian, and we did not reach tonight's decision easily or happily," board President Brenda Barnette said following the vote that took place after two hours of public testimony. "However, we feel this decision is the only one that will enable us to build a community center with room for all of the many dreams that have been expressed through community focus groups and forums."
Barnette said the only alternative would be to scale back the building with less room for meetings, workshops, and other community activities; the proposed auditorium was also mentioned as being among the items that would have to go if the Victorian was renovated.
In its 12-0 vote, the board also asked its building committee to consider options to mitigate the loss of the Victorian from the 1800 Market Street site. Among the options are conducting a thorough historical record of the property to create a permanent documentation of its details.
David Latina, chair of the building committee, said the group went back to the center's original goals that were developed through a series of focus groups held last year. Those goals include: include space to meet identified needs; efficiency; accessibility; safety; cost effectiveness; growth and flexibility; avoiding the money pit; and predictability.
"The building committee made a unanimous decision to build a new 41,000 square-foot facility," said Latina. Other board members noted that ideally, based on all the community input, a center of 85,000 square feet would be needed; that was decreased, first to 50,000 square feet, and then to the present plan of 41,000 square feet.
It was the discovery that the Victorian is built on top of sand that led to the vastly increased renovation cost, the board said. Cee added that because the Victorian has been vacant for years and vandals have trashed the interior, any renovation plan would basically require gutting the building. Seismic and safety concerns were also at issue, as the wooden Victorian could not provide the same level of security from fire and earthquake that are prudent in a high-occupancy commercial building.
At last week's meeting, some community members talked about the importance of saving the Victorian; one said the building is part of a historical connection with the Hayes Valley historical neighborhood. Another man passed out photographs of a Victorian he renovated, saying that the building was in worse shape than the Market Street Victorian.
Resident Vicki Berg encouraged people not to allow the board's decision, whatever it was, to divide the community. "It's really important that we put our hope and faith in the people who have been dealing with the project," she said. "It's important not to use this to split the community."
Alvin Baum, Jr., a historical preservationist who has remodeled and restored six Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the city, wrote to the board saying he always felt retaining the Victorian was a mistake for the community center project, in part because of the expense, and because it would not be possible to integrate the wooden Victorian with the new construction. Additionally, Baum stated, "There is no compelling case for preserving this particular old building."
Scott Shafer, CCP board member, said, "We appreciate some people feel that the Victorian is a handsome structure; however, the board is committed to constructing a spectacular new building that future generations will cherish for its architectural statement. The board could not in good conscience approve a project with unpredictable renovation costs that would compromise the center's ability to serve this community fully."
The community center's architects are expected to meet this week with the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage to review the board's decision and the feasibility study. The CCP must now complete an environmental impact report (EIR), , which is a public process prior to hearings that will be held before both the San Francisco Landmarks Board and Planning Commission.