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Parks & Beaches calls Rec Center renovation plan ‘all to gain and nothing to lose’

The 105-year-old La Jolla Recreation Center at 615 Prospect St.
A proposal to renovate the 105-year-old La Jolla Recreation Center at 615 Prospect St. has an estimated timeline for completion of three to four years once plans are approved and finalized and would cost $6 million to $8 million.
(File)

Renovation plans for the La Jolla Recreation Center got another nod of approval when the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group reviewed them during its June 29 meeting.

The board did not cast a formal vote at the online gathering, but when architect Trace Wilson asked who was in support of the project, President Ann Dynes joked, “What’s not to support?”

The project received a similarly warm reception from La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee earlier last month, with trustees calling the plans “stunning.”

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.”

As part of the renovation of the 105-year-old Rec Center at 615 Prospect St., Wilson was tasked with upgrading the building and playground while maintaining historical elements protected under the La Jolla Community Plan.

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 ocean-themed equipment closer to the front of the building, improve seating and add a “trellis element” for shade with a variety of trees.

Landscape architect Jennifer Phelps added that the use of trees would “create these spaces to be much more inviting than they are now and more activating for the public. We want to encourage use with the design. It is going to make it a more vibrant experience.”

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, announced in February, 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.
(Courtesy)

The green turf field would remain as 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 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.

Wilson told the Parks & Beaches board that one of the “issues with the building” is a lack of connection between the Prospect Street side and the playground side and that he “wants to open up the auditorium and create a foyer to the playground with a patio and terrace.”

He said the plan would promote “intergenerational” use of the Rec Center, from new play structures for children, pickleball courts for all ages and bocce for older users.

In providing a history of the building, La Jolla resident and historian Diane Kane said: “The Rec Center is important not just for the architecture by Irving Gill and its connection to Ellen Browning Scripps and Virginia Scripps, but it was also one of the first rec centers in the United States. It was heavily publicized as a unique cultural and civic amenity.”

Wilson said the committee behind the renovation is considering a La Jolla history mural with important dates and people connected to the community.

Addressing questions from the board, specifically on whether the new configuration would allow long-standing events to continue at the Rec Center when social distancing measures are no longer in place, Wilson said: “Our thinking was to be as flexible as possible on the site. … You can utilize all sides of the playground area and the new basketball courts.”

Though no commercial enterprises are proposed for the site, trustee Debbie Beachum she is an advocate for no commercial activity at the center. “I think it’s critical that you look at how you offer commercialization into these beautiful plans,” she said.

Trustee Sally Miller asked whether two proposals — creating a parking structure beneath the Rec Center and adding a skateboard park — were still being considered. They were rounded rejected by the community.

Wilson assured that once the community voiced opposition, the proposals “were taken off the table and we never looked back.”

After the presentation, trustee Phyllis Minick said: “This is all to gain and nothing to lose. It’s just great.”

The renovation project has been three years in the making. The proposal has an estimated timeline for completion of three to four years once plans are approved and finalized. The cost would be about $6 million to $8 million, but the project committee would like to raise an additional $3 million to $4 million to create an endowment fund.

The plans are making the rounds to local community advisory groups for feedback and will next be heard at the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board’s online meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 15.

To learn more, visit reviveljrc.org.

Other Parks & Beaches news

Scripps restroom project: The board was updated on the Scripps Park comfort station (restroom facility) project in a statement by community liaison Vic Salazar.

“Construction activity resumed in mid-May for the comfort station replacement project after a temporary suspension due to the recommended protocols for COVID-19 ... and the desire to keep construction personnel and vendors safe during this critical time,” the statement read. “Since resuming work, the project has been successful in activating the new sewer lift station to service the Bridge Club and demolition of both the comfort station and the old sewer pump station. In addition, grading of the site was completed on June 22 to allow for the staking and digging of footings to set the forms for slabs and foundations. The project remains on schedule for completion in the summer of 2021.”

The facility also will feature benches, outdoor showers, disabled-accessible toilets and indoor showers and storage for beach equipment. The facility as a whole is two buildings with a breezeway between. One building will house unisex stalls and the other will have indoor showers and single-sex restrooms and changing rooms, surrounded by exterior features.

Children’s Pool “ramp” revisited: Kane said she met with California Coastal Commission staff to discuss a controversial “ramp” at the Children’s Pool and the city of San Diego constructing a wall in front of it. “They agreed to take it under advisement and might hear it again in August,” she said.

The ramp, as it is called by beach-access advocates, is a steep slope that connects the landing at the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower to the beach below. However, the slope is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and there is no railing on either side. It has been blocked by a gate since the 1990s.

In 2017, the city built a 30-inch retaining wall in front of the ramp as part of the lifeguard tower construction project. During subsequent hearings on the retaining wall, beach-access advocates showed how the ramp historically was used to access the beach by pedestrians, people in wheelchairs and those with children in strollers and wagons.

Next meeting: La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, July 27. To learn more, visit lajollaparksbeaches.org.