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Bigger Lifeguard HQs Underway

The first phase of construction underway on the soon to be rebuilt lifeguard headquarters at Main Beach.

Costs on the rise

Main Beach’s basketball players are dribbling elsewhere, forced off the beach in recent weeks by a new crew. The popular basketball courts now covered in plywood lie beneath mounds of dirt and gear as excavation for a new sewer pump station next to the lifeguard headquarters is at full throttle. Demolishing the lifeguards’ old quarters will follow in its wake.

Costs for the long-expected, two-phase construction project, however, are escalating from the $5 million price tag approved by the City Council last year.

“The costs are up to $7.8 million,” said City Manager John Pietig, “and that’s subject to change because the plans are at about 30 percent of completion.” Pietig said the original $5 million estimate was based on the amount of money in the city’s capital improvement fund.

He said costs are up because a floor plan with more square footage was ultimately approved by the California Coastal Commission.  Additional dollars, he said, will come from next year’s capital improvement fund.

The new lifeguard headquarters, with construction expected to begin in fall, will replace a 1,500-square-foot, 50-year-old ode to the ‘60s.   A modern, eco-appointed two-level and 6,000-square-foot facility will emerge in its place, with 3,000 feet at sea level and 3,000 feet below.

To win California Coastal Commission approval, which is dependent on preserving natural habitat and serving public interests, design plans added a subterranean lower level and included relocating and incorporating the nearby restrooms into the lifeguards’ building.

Plans also call for restoring the beach and bluff to a more natural state once the old restrooms are removed.  The commission also deemed that the public will be served by replacing the sewage pump station under the old headquarters with a new one adjacent to the new building. The commission finally granted the city’s request, following six years of revising design plans and crafting the wording to gain approval.

Work on the new site for the sewer pump station began in October and the pump station is expected to be fully functional by May, said city project director Wade Brown.  He added that the sewer facility is being moved not only to update the equipment, but to give the lifeguards more elbow room.

“Although 6,000 square feet might sound large,” said Brown, “it’s going to be a bare-minimum facility for them.”  The new facility will provide a first-aid room “to treat stingray cuts and other minor incidents,” a dispatch area, a debriefing room for morning meetings and organizational gatherings with the large summer lifeguard crew, he said.

Another reason for the reconstruction of the Main Beach lifeguard station, said Brown, is to separate the boys from the girls.  “They’re going to have enough operational space that they can have at least gender accommodations for the staff,” he said. “It’s a little tiny building; it’s about 1100 square feet and it’s a real mess.”  The lower level will provide separate locker rooms and showers.

The old headquarters will be razed after the coming summer season; the new building, equipped with the latest technology, is expected to take a year to complete. In the meantime, lifeguards will work out of temporary mobile offices perched on the grass near the Main Beach lifeguard tower.

Among the eight fulltime lifeguards, Calla Allison, the city’s sole Marine Protection Officer, is the only full-time female employee. By summer, seasonal staff will increase to 100 lifeguards with 10 to 15 percent women, said lifeguard spokesman Scott Diedrich. On a peak summer day, Laguna’s population of 23,000 swells to 100,000.

Because the driveway near the headquarters is obstructed by construction, marine safety vehicles are now parked on the sand at Coast Highway and Broadway for easy north or south access, explained Brown.

“It’s amazing how many people ask us about the construction,” said Diedrich.  As the project grows and more equipment and dirt fills the area, he said guards are gearing up not only for more people but for a lot more questions.

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