The Coast News Group
Solana Beach’s lifeguard station, built in 1943, will be demolished and replaced, but when that will happen, what it will look like and how it will be funded remain to be seen. Plans call to cut into the southern hillside so the new facility will not take up much more space at Fletcher Cove than it does now. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
CitiesCommunitySolana BeachSolana Beach Featured

Council supports replacing lifeguard station

SOLANA BEACH — Council members unanimously agree the more than 70-year-old lifeguard station at Fletcher Cove should be demolished and replaced.

But when that will happen, what it will look like and how it will be funded have yet to be decided.

The existing 1,480-square-foot structure built in 1943 doesn’t meet current lifeguard needs and its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is “questionable at best,” City Engineer Mo Sammak said.

The perimeter foundation is deteriorating, a second floor captain’s office is accessible only by climbing a ladder and the break room and first aid station are shared.

In March 2016 Stephen Dalton Architects was hired to conduct a needs assessment and feasibility study to determine whether the building should be renovated or replaced.

The results, presented at the June 14 meeting, indicate nearly all the components are degraded and past their useful and expected life. After consulting with lifeguards to evaluate their needs, it was determined the new marine safety center should be between 3,700 and 4,700 square feet.

The first of three proposed options, described by Dalton as “undesirable in many ways,” was a temporary 3,520-square-foot modular facility he considers a short-term solution that satisfies space needs but doesn’t address the functional requirements of the lifeguards.

For example, it doesn’t include a second-floor observation area.

Aesthetically it “doesn’t seem to be keeping in character with Fletcher Cove,” Dalton said, and it would create safety concerns with beachgoer drop off and pickup.

With a preliminary estimate of a little more than $1.6 million, it is the least expensive option. But the 50-year projected cost is $7 million because it would have to be replaced within 10 to 25 years, when building costs will likely be higher.

Renovating and expanding the existing station to about 3,780 square feet is also an option but the building would have to be “stripped down to absolute bare bones,” Dalton said.

The hidden cost to that is “you don’t know what you don’t know until you open up the walls,” and that could add to the nearly $3.4 million estimated cost, he said.

When renovating Fletcher Cove Community Center in 2011, substandard construction, moisture and significant termite damage were discovered once the walls came down, resulting in increased costs and hampering attempts to return the historic building to its original look.

While council members agree the third and final destroy-and-rebuild alternative is the best course of action, they have concerns about the proposed size.

At an estimated 4,770 square feet and $4 million it is the largest and most expensive option to serve Solana Beach’s 1.7 miles of beach.

By comparison, Del Mar has 2.5 miles of beach and an approximately 2,800-square-foot marine safety center. The 3.5 miles of beach at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas are served by a 3,250-square-foot facility.

“Almost a 5,000-square-foot building just seems like it would be really monstrous,” Councilwoman Ginger Marshall said. “It could overshadow what our cute, little Fletcher Cove Park is right now.”

“I don’t have much hope in being able to renovate it … in an economically feasible manner,” Councilman Dave Zito said. “Starting over and actually getting something functional that will work for the lifeguards is probably the best thing to do.

“I am sensitive to fact that this is a fairly small space in the park there and … a very large structure could overwhelm it and make it look like it is not fitting in well,” he added.

Mayor Mike Nichols said the age of the existing structure makes the decision to demolish and replace it a little more difficult.

Economically and functionally, building a new facility makes the most sense, he said.

“It’s from the emotional/historical standpoint that you start to feel like, ‘Oh man, wouldn’t that be a shame to lose,’” he said. “And that’s where the challenge comes in as an architect or a designer, to really capture that texture … and make it feel like maybe it’s been there for all of Solana Beach’s history.”

Nichols and Dalton said option three provides an opportunity to reflect the historic character of the existing facility in a new design.

Representatives from San Diego’s Surfrider Foundation said they support the project but for environmental reasons, not a proposed access stairway on the bluff or a sea wall.

Those elements were not included in the cost estimates and could increase the price tag by nearly $1 million.

The project must also be approved by the California Coastal Commission. Sammak said based on early conversations, representatives from that agency “were very supportive” but had concerns about maintaining the number of parking spaces and the building size.

“My personal reaction was that they clearly understood the need for an upgrade and renovation but … they wanted us to … provide enough information so that they could make a determination and perhaps apply conditions to our application,” he said.

City Manager Greg Wade said the June 14 discussion was “a really high-level needs assessment” and not a design exercise, which is when building square footage and other details would be decided.

He will present a proposed budget and identify funding sources at a future meeting.

Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer said she is impressed with what lifeguards have been able to do given their restrictions in the current facility.

“That building scares me to be inside,” she said. “I hope that we build (a new one) and I hope we build it now.

“I’m afraid to not do it,” she added. “I think it’s a very important building to this community.”