Cupertino City Hall: Renovate for $28M or Build New for $72M?

Structural Analysis Reports for our city hall confirm that the nearly 60-year-old structure does not meet current building standards; it needs to be retrofitted for seismic safety. City hall’s current configuration–with its main floor dominated by a room that hosted city council meetings before community hall was completed in the early 2000s–and outdated HVAC and IT infrastructure does not meet the needs of today’s mobile workforce that requires both collaborative and quiet workspaces, but can be anticipated to work remotely at least some of the time. Additionally, Cupertino’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) must satisfy more stringent seismic safety requirements than those that apply to city hall. The City, understandably, prefers to locate the EOC in close proximity to city hall.

Prior to 2/21/2023, Cupertino had acquired the property at 10455 Torre Ave (“City Hall Annex”), located across the street from city hall, with an eye to renovating the existing office building to accommodate the EOC and its robust seismic safety requirements. The plan for city hall and the EOC was to retrofit and renovate existing City-owned properties for an estimated cost of $28M.

On 2/21/2023, a new Council majority of Mayor Hung Wei, Vice Mayor Sheila Mohan, and Council Member JR Fruen overruled Council Members Liang Chao and Kitty Moore and voted in favor of suspending all work on the City Hall Renovation plan, except the City Hall Annex project. Instead, the Council majority directed staff to prepare options for a new city hall building of approximately 80,000 square feet to include a flexible event space with hosting capacity of up to 500 people. ($72M estimated new construction cost as reported in the FY 23-24 Capital Improvement Program 5 Year Plan.)

Does Cupertino need its own 500-person capacity event space? In 2022, Cupertino and the Santa Clara County Library District added 2-floors of programming space at the Cupertino Library (100-person event capacity). Cupertino Community Hall can accommodate 170 people. A mile from City Hall, De Anza College has the 400-person Visual and Performing Arts Center and a college district board that considers re-build options for its now closed 2,400-person Flint Center Theater. Across the street from De Anza College at Quinlan Center, the Cupertino Room seats up to 280 people. Additionally, there are numerous 400+ seating capacity venues located throughout the South Bay and Peninsula.

Cupertino forecasts revenue of $130M for FY 2023, operating expenditures of $127M, and capital expenditures of approximately $4M, for a projected deficit of $343,000. Where would funds for a multi-year city hall renovation or build new project come from? We could look to Sunnyvale as a guide. Earlier this year, Sunnyvale announced the near completion of Phase I of its multi-phase civic center renovation. According to San José Spotlight, the first phase will cost $315M and will be funded by over $130M in bonds—bonds that will incur interest of $100M that will be paid by the City of Sunnyvale (its residents) until 2052. Remaining sources of funding include the sale of surplus property, city development fees, and unnamed “other sources.” How much money and debt obligation do we, Cupertino voters and taxpayers, want to dedicate to a city hall development project? What projects wait or will not get built if the City moves forward with a new $72M city hall, especially when a renovation project costing less than half of new construction brings the safe and modern facilities that the City needs?

Finally, we must consider the environmental benefits of renovating the existing city hall over building new. Blueprint for Better, a climate action campaign supported by the American Institute of Architects offers this support for renovation of existing buildings whenever possible

“… Renovating buildings dramatically reduces embodied carbon, which is the carbon emitted during new construction by the manufacture, transport, and assembly of materials. As a result, architects can renovate existing buildings to reduce their operational carbon to zero, lessening their contribution to climate change.

‘If you renovate and reuse the biggest parts of existing buildings—typically the structure and foundation—you can save 50 percent of your carbon on a project right off the bat,’ says Larry Strain, FAIA, a principal at Siegel & Strain Architects in Emeryville, California. ‘It’s the first thing all architects and owners should try to do.’”

Learn More

City of Cupertino, Capital Improvement Program Dashboard:

City of Cupertino, City Hall Project:

“Budget at a Glance: Fiscal Year 2022-2023”, Cupertino Scene, October 2022:

Santa Clara County Library District Meeting Rooms:

 “Sunnyvale Gets Sleek New City Hall” by Joseph Geha, San José Spotlight, 1/23/2023:

American Institute of Architects, Blueprint for Better campaign, “Renovating Buildings to Protect the Climate and Rejuvenate Communities”:

“To Build or Not to Build? Architects Struggle with the Future of Their Craft in a Warming World” by Frances Anderton, Sierra: the Magazine of the Sierra Club, 12/16/2021:

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