The Coast News Group
Although still early in the design process, the city expressed support for an above-ground, multi-story design of the new Marine Service Center. The current center is about 70-years-old, with many of its structures degrading and/or asbestos-ridden. Photo courtesy of domusstudios.
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Solana Beach moves forward with early design concept for Marine Safety Center

SOLANA BEACH – The design process is underway for a new Marine Safety Center at Fletcher Cove, to replace a structure that is over 70-years-old and well beyond its heyday.

At a Nov. 20 City Council meeting, city-hired architects with domusstudio presented early location and design possibilities for the potential new lifeguard headquarters, which would likely be over twice the size of the current structure and aim to increase visibility and enhance the surrounding park area.

Lifeguards voiced their support for an above-ground facility on top of the bluff, as opposed to potential designs that would lower the facility underground and into the bluff, and thus expand the current park space.

Said preferred option — called “option A” — illustrated a multi-story structure that would be pushed into the slope to the south in order to minimize view obstruction. This option proposed two structures, a larger building with a garage, and a smaller building with an observation tower situated near the center of the cove, with a 360-degree view of the park and beach. This option would involve razing the original center.

According to City Manager Greg Wade, the city and domusstudio will continue working with this location option and will soon be seeking additional community feedback prior to coming back to council with future design options.

“There is still much work to be done to determine the ultimate design and the layout of the proposed facility,” said Wade in an email to The Coast News.

The current building, though beloved for its historical charm, is functioning beyond its capacity, with Tetris-like configurations of equipment, an attic used as an office space, and an 80-square-foot room serving as both a kitchen and first-aid room.

The city conducted a feasibility study in 2016 which determined that “nearly all” of the building’s components were degraded. Given options to renovate the structure or raze and rebuild, the city went with building a new structure.

The facility is now 1,480 square feet, and the city and lifeguards are hoping for a structure approximately 4,000 square feet in size.

After working closely with the city’s lifeguards and conducting community outreach in February, domusstudio developed three designs with varying orientations to the current park and bluff. Although the designs were conceptual and limited in detail, council, community members and lifeguards at the meeting were able to comment on the deficiencies, and express preferences for moving forward.

Although lifeguards said they preferred “option A,” Mayor Dave Zito and fellow council members expressed some concern with the design, due to its size.

“This council will be slaughtered by the public from a bulk and scale perspective, and I don’t know how to overcome that … I’m willing to take that beating if that’s what it takes to get the right operational element out of this project,” he said.

The two other proposed options would involve pushing a large chunk of the center underground and into the bluff. “Option B” would involve maintaining the existing safety center for use as a garage — thus preserving some of the history treasured by locals and lifeguards alike — but move much of the operations downstairs into a new facility.

“Option C” illustrated a project completely integrated into the bluff, thus expanding the park area on to the former headquarters’ footprint. This option would involve razing the existing structure and leaving essentially no traces of a marine service center above ground.

Both options B and C presented an underground garage area that would have an exit to the north of the building, onto the current ramp, offering closer access to the beach.

Marine Safety Captain Jason Shook said the two latter options have a “cave-like feel,” and might present challenges associated with equipment being so close to the water.

Lifeguard Sergeant Greg Uruburu added that the public might struggle to find lifeguards if the center is integrated into the bluff. Another lifeguard added that the underground designs might limit the amount of natural light entering the building.

“There are some pretty major concerns from a service-based operational day-to-day standpoint that we see to that,” said Uruburu.

The architects also presented designs for a potential additional walkway down to the beach from the headquarters. Such a path would run across the bluff, as to allow lifeguards to maintain their sightline to the water from the center and have quicker access to the beach. But the California Coastal Commission would likely require the path be for both lifeguards and the public, thus triggering a need for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Two public speakers disagreed on whether the new facility should incorporate a seawall — a longstanding point of controversy in Solana Beach and coastal communities at large. Many unanswered questions remain as to how the city and design team will deal with the question of bluff erosion and stability below the center.

For now, council members agreed that whatever design moves forward should “maintain a view corridor as much as possible,” Councilwoman Kelly Harless said.

According to the staff report, domusstudio will bring the project through preliminary engineering and design. It will cost an estimated $450,000 to complete environmental studies, final design plans and specifications before the final design can go out to bid for construction.