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Lifeguard Tower redesign stirs public debate

Go underground.

That was the direction La Jolla Town Council’s Parks & Beaches Committee and community members gave to a city planner and an architect seeking their input last week on how best to redesign Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station.

Lifeguards using existing Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station said they’ve outgrown the small, outdated facility built in the ‘60s, which now needs to be modernized and expanded to meet future personnel needs. Updating the Children’s Pool facility has been planned for years, but progress on it has been put on hold the past couple years due to the city’s financial crisis and inability to seek bonds to pay for refurbishment.

As the city works through its financial problems, Jihad Sleiman, project manager for the coastal lifeguard station, said the city wants to revisit redesigning the site so everything will be ready to move it forward through the planning pipeline once San Diego regains the ability to seek bonds for construction projects.

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La Jolla community planners and residents, however, are balking at both the scale and visibility of the proposed Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station project.

La Jolla Town Councilman Jerry Anderson noted at the June 25 parks and beaches committee hearing that the debate over the proper size for redeveloping the Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station has a long history. Anderson added the town council’s position has remained unchanged over time.

“The Town Council wrote a letter to Councilman Peters and Mayor Sanders in 2005 saying the community and the council don’t want any station any larger than twice the size of the current station, which is 800 square feet,” said Anderson.

Sleiman noted work on the redesign of the lifeguard station redevelopment project goes back to 2001-02. “It’s been a difficult task so far,” admitted Sleiman, adding the lifeguards have told the city they need a number of things, including men’s and women’s locker rooms. a first aid room, a reception area and two work stations, in order for them to properly perform their public service duties.

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“We’re not just building the station for today,” said Sleiman, “we are building the station for the future, to last at least 40, 50 years. What I am trying to do here is just get as much input as possible from you, and take that back to the drawing board to put together a plan that would be acceptable to you. “

Dan Stewart, an architect consulting with the city on Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station’s redesign, said he’s been directed to restart the design process again with a “clean slate.”

“I was asked to open it up and get as many ideas as possible from you,” he said, “rather than just going back to the lifeguards and having a conversation with them.”

Providing handicap accessibility, noted Stewart, will be a government-mandated requirement for any redevelopment of the lifeguard station site. “Providing ADA access will be difficult,” he said. “You’re talking about putting things down elevators, ramps. That not only increases the cost but also the scope and scale of the project.”

Stewart said he’s heard two distinct schools of thought on how the Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station should be redesigned. One holds that it should be redesigned to blend in with the surrounding community. The other is that it should be “branded” with an architectural style to make it a landmark. “One idea is that the facility should fit into the character of the immediate surrounding community,” he said, “replicate Casa de Manana’s (retirement center’s) style. The other is that it should be more than just a utilitarian structure, that it should be an iconic building.”

La Jolla Shores resident Mary Coakley offered a suggestion for how Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station could be redesigned, minimizing its visual impact while maximizing its potential to serve the future needs of lifeguards. “If you utilize the underground area of the building,” she said, “the lifeguards would get more space than they ever wanted.”

La Jolla community planner Phil Merten pointed out the city has more than lifeguards to please with any redesign of the Children’s Pool Lifeguard Station. “You’ve got a bigger client, the community of La Jolla,” he said, “and an even bigger client, the citizens of San Diego, who are going to repay the bond to build this lifeguard facility. I think you need to give as much - or more -attention to those 1.5 million people as you do to the lifeguards that use that station.”

Merten added that the lifeguards and the La Jolla community are working at cross purposes on this issue. “The lifeguards need a large facility,” Merten said, “and the community wants to squeeze the size of the building, making it smaller.”

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Esther Viti expressed concern that the city needs to put the lifeguard station redesign in proper perspective. “We need to stay focused,” Viti said. “Lifeguards do not have to spend the night there like at a firestation. It does not have to be manned 24 hours.”

Bird Rock resident Darcy Ashley agreed with those who believe that undergrounding the redesign of the lifeguard station would solve problems associated with its size, scale and aesthetics.

“If you could provide a plaza with picnic tables and all sorts of things, people could get really excited about that,” Ashley said."You would have a much better time selling that to people if they knew they were getting a public space that was really cool.”