Lifeguard HQ Nears Completion

Marine safety Chief Kevin Snow outside the soon-to-be completed headquarters at the north end of Main Beach.
Marine safety Chief Kevin Snow outside the soon-to-be completed headquarters at the north end of Main Beach.

Laguna’s beachgoers, pedestrians and passing motorists may soon again behold an unobstructed view of Main Beach and the ocean beyond.

If the new $7 million lifeguard headquarters and public restrooms open on schedule by mid-April, the temporary quarters marring Laguna’s signature vista will be removed shortly thereafter, according to the city’s project director, Wade Brown, who gave a status report to the City Council last week.

Even allowing for a smattering of unforeseen roadblocks, such as the bedrock being deeper than expected and the need to re-route the sewer line, which prompted the City Council to approve a $100,000 increase in the project’s contingency funds, Brown estimates a savings of $465,000 from a budget of $7,156,000 when the project wraps up.

“It’s time to be excited about getting this done,” said Kevin Snow, Laguna’s marine safety chief, clearly eager to swap the small-windowed, cramped space of the makeshift trailer for the observation glass of their new digs, offering a sweeping vantage of the coastline to the north and south. Snow pointed out that the post’s beautiful panorama is secondary to its practical advantage in providing guards a better line of sight to observe the action, catch miscreants and rescue anyone in harm’s way.

As for the outside, “North Main Beach will be a really nice place,” said Snow, who sees the visitor-friendly headquarters as an attractive and welcoming anchor to a section of the beach that used to have a sort of ugly cousin relationship with the more attractive center.

In addition to the paved front entrance, enhanced with planters, seating and artist Terry Thornsley’s “Stormy Night” mural, members of the public who venture inside will find helpful brochures and a customer service counter. For the past 15 months, anyone with a query for the lifeguards would have to knock at a closed security door and hope for a response. Now, said Snow, they can simply push open a glass door and chat with whoever is manning the counter, which fronts the control room and dispatch center of the headquarters.

In all, seven fulltime employees, one regular part-time employee, three recurrent hourly lifeguards, seven to eight tide pool educators and about 100 peak time lifeguards will operate out of the center.

Other amenities in the 3,000 square foot space include a first aid treatment room, and, on the basement level, separate men’s and women’s locker rooms and showers, as well as a training room for the rookie academy and on-going compliance training. In the past, trainees ended up on the grass outside or were farmed out to various available indoor locations around town.

Previously relegated towards the back of a bluff, the new spacious and ADA-compliant restrooms are housed in the same building as the headquarters, next to the main public entrance, with sandy-textured tile floors and sunlight streaming in through a large skylight above.

The main floor of the headquarters will also contain the controls for the sewer lift station through a separate entrance, as well as a back-up generator for the headquarters and the lift station.

To top it all off, literally, succulents will be planted on the roof in areas not occupied by the solar panels for water heating. Use of renewable resources, such as concrete and glass, further enhances the project’s “green” designation.

Pedestrians used to the awkward trek from the beach up to Heisler Park will appreciate the new landscaping and improved path from the basketball courts up to the Inn at Laguna Beach. Snow said they should also appreciate no longer having to skedaddle to make room for emergency vehicles heading out to a rescue, since the finished project makes room for a separate vehicles-only access route.

The building itself is on track for completion later this month, and the lifeguards expect to move in and open it up to the public once workers finish up the park improvements next month. Then the trailers causing an eyesore on Main Beach will be taken down and the site re-landscaped.

The removal of the temporary sewer lift station controls, which take up a small area of the park, will be the last piece in the puzzle. They will be relocated inside the building once the emergency power systems there have been thoroughly tested, probably by mid-May. Then the ground above the sewer lift station will be restored to park and pervious pavement, removing the final blemish.

Last week the City Council also accepted a small plaque from the Westgaard family, benefactors of the original facility that was constructed in the 1980s thanks to a significant fundraising effort. The plaque would read “At this site stood the Dean Westgaard Memorial Lifeguard Headquarters,” and will be installed in the landscape planter on the south side of the building. As Snow pointed out, though the old building no longer accommodated their needs efficiently, they were very grateful for it at the time it was built and thankful to the hard-working volunteers who made it happen.

“We can serve the community better from the new facility,” said Snow, calling it an “awesome building,” given the constraints of the site.

The ribbon-cutting and grand opening is planned for mid-May.

Chart material:

Laguna Beach’s Lifeguard stats:

35,000 physical rescues/year

275,000 initiated public contacts (such as warnings)

125,000 preventive actions

20,000 ecological contacts

450 junior lifeguards

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