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La Jolla Rec Center renovation plans making the rounds; DPR calls them ‘stunning’

The preliminary proposed site plan for the La Jolla Recreation Center, as announced in February.
The preliminary proposed site plan for the La Jolla Recreation Center includes: A) two new bocce courts along Prospect Street; B) vacating Cuvier Street to create more park space; C) better shade throughout; D) a new unified playground space; E) moving the basketball courts.
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Plans for a La Jolla Recreation Center renovation are making the rounds to local community planning groups for input, starting with the June 16 La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee meeting, where the proposal drew reviews like “stunning.”

With a coastline and sea-life theme for a new playground and plans to open up lesser-used portions of the building, the project to upgrade the 105-year-old Rec Center at 615 Prospect St. has been three years in the making.

The proposal would cost about $10 million to $12 million (up from $6 million three years ago) and has an estimated timeline for completion of three to four years once plans are approved and finalized.

The La Jolla Recreation Advisory Group Visioning Committee held a three-day community brainstorming meeting in May 2018 to gather ideas that influenced the current plans. The feedback received indicated a need for “shade, better playground equipment, seating and bathrooms,” committee co-chair Alexis McCandless said.

Architect Trace Wilson of La Jolla was tasked with upgrading the Rec Center building and playground while maintaining historical elements protected under the La Jolla Community Plan.

“Our thought is to open up the building from the playground and open up the auditorium … so two sides read together,” he said. “The idea is, understanding the historic context, to have a breezeway through [the building]; utilize the upper floor, which is not utilized today; and maybe the basement, which is also not utilized today, so we have a three-story building. But we want to keep the auditorium in place … and create this patio or terrace that allows people to sit and look over the new playground we are creating.”

The outdoor recreation space would be rearranged to move the basketball courts toward the tennis courts at the La Jolla Tennis Club, develop a T-shaped playground with new equipment closer to the front of the building, improve seating and add a “trellis element” for shade.

“One of the goals is to have more shade and landscaping on the site,” Wilson said. “One of the reasons it is difficult to hang out there is there is no shade, and we want to bring back that notion of park space for the Rec Center.”

The green turf field would remain as it is, and there is discussion of taking over the small inlet of Cuvier Street between the Rec Center and The Bishop’s School for additional green space and courts. Because the parking spaces on that segment of Cuvier would be taken away, Wilson proposes restriping the spaces on Prospect Street to be diagonal, similar to those on Draper Avenue, to increase the number of spaces.

Changes to the building itself would include a stairway and/or elevator to increase access to the mezzanine level and creating a rooftop deck overlooking the ocean and the play fields.

“We spent three years of debate on site planning, and it was a healthy debate,” Wilson said. “We discussed where the basketball courts should go, why they should go there; we spoke about the wading pool that was once there and whether it could come back; why we kept the turf field where it is; and why we thought about taking over Cuvier Street. These decisions haven’t come without blood, sweat and tears. We’ve put on our boxing gloves and battled each other and we’ve come to this moment where we want to approach the community.”

Now, Wilson said, “we are going to roll out to various groups in La Jolla, meet with the city [of San Diego] and fundraise. We need your support, and if we have criticism we want to hear it now so we can move forward with a collective voice.”

Feedback on the plans from Development Permit Review members was positive during their online meeting held via Zoom.

Angeles Leira called it “great,” questioning only how the new Rec Center would relate to its neighbors.

Chairman Brian Will called the design “stunning” and “amazing.”

“The asphalt right outside the door of the Rec Center is the biggest black mark … it’s an unpleasant experience to even go out and use the restroom,” he said. “Having that terrace out there activates the space to so many more uses. And what is Southern California if not that indoor/outdoor experience? If you did nothing else, kudos to that.”

Though the board did not cast a formal vote, Will said the project has the committee’s support with no objection.

Plans are scheduled to be presented at the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board meeting in July, and volunteer Diane Kane said she would meet with Enhance La Jolla and the La Jolla Village Merchants Association for their input. ◆