MORAGA -- The addition at Saint Mary's College of a 60,000-square-foot fitness facility, a 95-by-150-foot swimming pool with a large deck and a 950-seat grandstand-type structure capping the southwest corner of the school's new baseball field has pushed the small, private college into big numbers and big-time planning.
"This is an enormous undertaking," Planning Director Shawna Brekke-Read said of the proposed Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center on the Moraga campus.
Six permits and a California Environmental Quality Act determination are required to before hauling and grading can begin. An updated written description is being prepared and is scheduled to be discussed at the Moraga Planning Commission's July 2 meeting. Upon approval of the plan by the town and then the state, the college can begin grading work. Building will require returning to the Design Review Board for more approvals.
"We tell applicants for new construction that it will take two years," Brekke-Read said. "It's remarkable to get an environmental document out the same month an application is complete. We had our consultant working on it the moment he came on board."
A May 21 meeting of the Moraga Planning Commission, Design Review Board and town staff included members of the public and representatives from Saint Mary's.
Jerry Haag, the environmental consultant hired by the town, emphasized the aesthetic intentions. Haag detailed how expanded surface parking, use of existing fill material and construction noise would affect the environment and the public.
Mark Orr, director of athletics at Saint Mary's, showed photos of the current athletics facilities, which he suggested were subpar and do not fit the spirit of the campus. Noting that the college's 150th anniversary is next year, Orr said, "This (new) facility certainly is a hub of that celebration."
Members of the general public raised concerns about noise, traffic, lighting, construction hours and public access.
Although permit rules do not allow construction to start before 8 a.m., mechanics working during baseball field construction were starting their engines earlier than permitted. Orr promised the college would abide by the ordinances when work proceeds.
Concerns about amplified noise from the swim center were mentioned repeatedly. The project proposal includes prohibiting the use of loudspeakers between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. and requires tests by an acoustic specialist to ensure that sound will not exceed 60 decibels at the property line.
Traffic congestion was discussed. Haag suggested that developing a more sophisticated parking management plan is necessary. Suggestions from the public included adding a second campus access point and altering the intersection at Rheem Boulevard and St. Marys Road.
"The Traffic Safety Advisory Committee has studied this," Brekke-Read acknowledged, "and a roundabout is out there as a possibility, but there currently isn't funding to do it."
A person associated with Orinda Aquatics asked about rentals.
"Currently we do rent some of our facilities out to the community. ... I'd certainly say there's a potential for it to be rentable," Orr said. "It's certainly not off the table."
Asked in a follow-up interview the next day about his answer, which deviated from the project's guidelines that restrict the use of the facility to Saint Mary's students, staff and faculty and would require a new environmental review, Orr offered a clarification.
"The project, as defined, is not designed for the general public. What I was referencing is our current practice of renting out to community members. That does not necessarily mean how the pool and recreation center will be rented out."
At the same time, Orr opened the door for changes down the road, saying, "We are consistently meeting with representatives of the town. It's our intent to be very collaborative and get this project off the ground. If that's something the Planning Commission or the community wants to discuss, the college is very cooperative."
For details, go to www.moraga.ca.us.