MENLO PARK, CA — Tractors, construction machinery and mounds of dirt currently occupy the site of what used to be the community center in the Menlo Park neighborhood of Belle Haven — steps away from the headquarters of Meta, the corporation formerly called Facebook.
But come 2023, city officials expected the 4-acre site to become a multigenerational, state-of-the-art hub of Menlo Park after a $45 million construction project funded by Meta is complete.
The community campus — which broke ground in early November — will feature a library, community center, senior center, youth center, fitness center, swimming pool and plenty of outdoor space.
“Our roots are here and will continue to be here, planted in this space to grow, flourish and prosper,” Menlo Park Councilmember Cecilia Taylor said at the Nov. 6 groundbreaking ceremony. “This holistic approach in creating an all-inclusive, comprehensive neighborhood campus has been to me just a shining moment.”
The project will replace a facility built in the 1970s and represented what Meta, city officials and community members described as a substantial investment by the tech giant in the area where it is based.
Meta’s Menlo Park headquarters sits on the edge of the Peninsula, bordered on the south by East Palo Alto and on the west by Belle Haven — a triangle-shaped neighborhood of more than 5,000 residents separated from the rest of Silicon Valley by U.S. Highway 101.
Belle Haven is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the Bay Area, with over 90 percent nonwhite residents, according to 2020 census data. It has also been historically underserved, community members said. And it was hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic compared to the rest of Menlo Park and the Peninsula, initially lagging behind in vaccine distribution.
“If you are in this community, you’re always in the trenches,” Belle Haven resident Rose Bickerstaff said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “We are a little community that’s north of the border. And the border is 101.”
Bickerstaff, who has lived in Belle Haven for more than 40 years, added that Meta has “never said ‘no’ to us,” and the investment “means a lot for an underserved community,” especially for education.
“We are in the middle of one of the richest valleys in the world: Silicon Valley,” Bickerstaff said. “Technology all around. But in this part of Menlo Park, our kids can’t reach that low-hanging fruit — the educational fruit that’s out there for every single child in this city. That is so wrong.”
Meta first submitted its proposal for the project in 2019. The company and community members “have basically experienced a lifetime of meetings, surveys and studies together,” said Belle Haven resident Sheryl Bims at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“So it is safe to say we have a lot of history,” Bims said. “Today, I believe we are making some beautiful history together. This project will be a testament of what it looks like when we highly esteem every single part of a municipality.”
In a 2015 article in The Almanac, Belle Haven’s residents characterized their relationship with Meta as positive since the company moved into Menlo Park in 2011 and began expanding its presence in the area.
The company has heard throughout the years that the community wanted educational and recreational facilities, according to Ashley Quintana, Meta’s public policy manager for community affairs.
Quintana, who used to work as an outreach coordinator for San Mateo County, told Patch she appreciated the public-private partnership that was also steered by the residents.
“The key thing here is it’s not only just the government and us — it’s the community,” Quintana said. “We were able not only to bring everyone together to bring their ideas and what they wanted to see in the future of this community campus to life, but we were able to support them with the build, the design and financially help make this happen.”
The community center’s foundation is expected to be poured by April 2022, with construction on the interior and other sitework to take place between May 2022 and January 2023.
Bims said that though Facebook’s name changed to Meta, “your commitment to our community, your care and concern, it hasn’t changed,” adding that she hoped the relationship would “age like fine wine.”
“The fact is that we are in the same neighborhood,” Bims said. “Thank you for undertaking this project. Thank you for fully committing to it. It took courage to do that, navigating communities, municipalities, politics. Who wants to be bothered with all that? But you took up the mantle.”