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[whitespace] Local parent says he'll build, donate an indoor sports facility to the city

Parks and Rec commission chair excited but cautious

Saratoga--Parks and Recreation Commissioners on Jan. 10 were treated to a rather startling proposal--an offer from a local parent to build and manage a state-of-the-art indoor sports and recreation center at no cost to the city.

The catch? There is none, according to Matt Malek-Salehi, who also goes by Malek or Madison in business. The Saratoga resident owns Indoor Sports Network Corp., a nonprofit based in Los Altos, and Housing Network, a firm that owns and operates apartments and office buildings in four states, including California. Malek said his proposal is a response to the lack of indoor recreational space in Saratoga for children, adults and the elderly. He said the proposal is his dream for the city.

"I am here as a concerned resident of Saratoga and a caring parent," he said. "I am not here as a developer. I am not here as an investor. And finally, I am not here to sell any products or services or to make profit." His wife and his daughter, Jila, 15, were with him at the meeting.

Malek has four children who attend Saratoga schools. All are serious athletes. Jila plays volleyball at Saratoga High School. His 13-year-old son, Auria, a freshman at SHS, is ranked second in the nation in table tennis for children under 16 years old. Leada and Shawyon, who attend Foothill Elementary School, play volleyball, table tennis and soccer. Malek said he drives them to practices that are both far away and crowded because there is not enough room in Saratoga.

The gym Malek envisions would be mobile and pre-fabricated. He said he is basically proposing to make one of the city's outdoor parks an indoor facility. Although he suggested erecting the complex at Congress Springs Park, because it is centrally located and somewhat away from residences, he said that any space in the city would be fine with him.

"I know there is a need," he said. "Just give me a piece of land, and I'll build it. We're not here to ask you if you want it, we're here to ask you where you want it."

Commissioners asked that Malek submit a more detailed proposal, with pictures, costs and effects on the city, for next month's meeting. "I am very excited about the prospect," Commission Chairwoman Judy Alberts said. "But I want to be cautious until we see a more complete proposal."

Malek said that the area needed for his proposed complex would be equal to a basketball court and one or two tennis courts, and stressed there would be no expansion of existing facilities. His plan for a recreation hall includes equipment for table tennis and chess. The sports hall would be used for tennis, volleyball, basketball and indoor soccer.

There would be a snack bar, bathrooms, showers and lockers, insulation to reduce noise and special floors to prevent injuries. Malek said his facility would be state-of-the-art and have a 50-year life expectancy. The walls would be made of galvanized steel, and building would have skylights and outdoor landscaping. He said it could be built in two months.

Commissioners listened to Madison's proposal and asked many questions. One question was whether Saratoga residents would be given priority in the use of the gym. Malek said "yes" and added that residents would also be given a discount on fees. Although Malek proposed three different facility sizes (small, medium and large), commissioners asked only for proposals for small- and medium-sized facilities. Malek's proposal for a large facility would entail converting an existing soccer field to make room for an indoor soccer and skateboarding area.

Saratoga Recreation Director Joan Pisani said that the city definitely needs another gym. Not one school was able to give Saratoga's 28-team youth basketball league any practice time at all last week, which is typical, she said.

She said she could not yet comment on Madison's proposal because she has not seen all the details of how the gym would be run and how it would look.

"I do know that this community needs another gym for children and adults," she said.

Malek intends to pay for this complex and manage it once it is built, through his nonprofit corporation, Indoor Sports Network Corp. He said he would supply all staff, including maintenance, and pay them himself. But the city would have to pay for all utilities, he said.

If the complex is built, Malek will donate it to the city and then lease the space, for $1 per month, and manage it. The money made by renting the space out to teams, for tournaments and to members that would pay an annual fee, would go toward paying Malek back. Malek said any additional money would go into a trust fund for the city to build a second facility.

An ex-table tennis player and volleyball coach, Malek said his firm has engineering and design experience remodeling gyms in Salem and Eugene, Ore. Malek helped start the Palo Alto Table Tennis Club. He was a volunteer coach, and he installed the lighting and the equipment.

Madison said that for the past five years, he has studied the positive effects of athletics on youth. As an example, he cited his daughter Jila, whose grades, health and self-esteem improved after getting in to volleyball.

According to Jila, she used to be extremely shy and she came close to failing science before volleyball changed her life. "I was so shy, I couldn't call the ball at first," she said later in an interview. "I was scared."

Today, Jila said she gets A's in science and even won the 1997-1998 Excellence in Science Award at her school.

Malek said he wants to help other children the way he has helped his own children by supporting them in their athletic endeavors.

"It's the concept of giving an opportunity to a youth to express themselves, exercise and join teams," Malek said. "Volleyball is just one tool. The sports center would have many tools."
Kara Chalmers

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