Transforming Encinitas elementary school into city arts facility will be costly, consultant says
Money isn’t currently available for a multimillion-dollar overhaul of Pacific View property, city manager says
The aging, former elementary school that city officials have talked for years about transforming into an arts, culture and ecology center is going to require a multimillion-dollar renovation before it can be put to use, a city-hired consultant has found.
And, there’s no money immediately available to fund even the cheapest of the four renovation options suggested by the consultant, the city manager told the Encinitas City Council during a special meeting last week.
“Right now, we don’t have a path for funding for this project,” City Manager Pamela Antil stressed.
Council members then asked Antil what the city’s chances were of receiving federal money through the new infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law last month. Antil said that council members could consider revisiting the school renovation issue early next spring when city employees are working on the budget for the new fiscal year, but said she wasn’t optimistic about the new federal law solving the funding problem.
“I do not want to give you false hope in February that I will have a magical bucket of money,” Antil said, adding that Encinitas may well receive funding from the new federal legislation for road and water system improvements, but an arts center isn’t likely to qualify for that program.
However, she said, the council does have the option of putting an arts center funding measure on the ballot or even using revenue from an anticipated cannabis business tax. Her comment led Councilman Tony Kranz to joke that he’d soon be reading a newspaper headline declaring, “Encinitas funds arts center with weed tax.”
Kranz was one of the driving forces behind the city’s purchase of the former Pacific View Elementary School property in 2014, after the school district considered and then dropped several other proposals for the 2.8-acre, prime coastal hilltop property on downtown’s Third Street. Initially, the city’s stated goal was to create a completely self-sustaining, independently funded facility. A group known as the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance — a coalition of city arts enthusiasts and nonprofit groups — tried for years to make this happen.
Alliance members fundraised, designed landscape plans, repaired the roof, repainted the buildings and estimated they added about $1 million in value to the property, mostly through volunteer labor. But, after failing to win city Planning Commission approval for permits that would have allowed them to host many special events on the site as well as conduct classes, group members ultimately asked the city for help in early 2020.
Jeff Katz, the architect the city has since hired to conduct the latest assessment on the Pacific View buildings, told the council last week that the buildings had deteriorated in recent years, but he believed the city could get by with rehabilitating the existing structures rather than building new ones.
“We think the bones of the buildings are fine,” he said in response to council members’ questions.
However, he said, repair work isn’t going to come cheap, given the soaring costs of construction supplies recently. His assessment report (https://encinitas.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=2604&meta_id=132424), lists numerous electrical, mechanical and structural issues that need fixing or replacing, including leaking skylights, damaged flooring, and degraded electrical, heating and plumbing systems.
The report suggests four options for the council. They are:
Option A — Only renovating the smaller of the two main buildings on the site, including making the restrooms compliant with handicapped accessibility laws, conducting structural repairs and improving the electrical system. Cost estimated at $3.8 million.
Option B — Renovating both of the main buildings on the site, including structural, electrical and handicapped accessibility changes. Cost estimated at $7.3 million.
Option C — Conducting all of the previously mentioned repairs to the two buildings, reworking the interior of the smaller building and moving the restrooms in a new, less-than-500-square-foot structure. Cost estimated at $7.8 million.
Option D — Conducting all the repair work, and building a bigger restroom structure that could accommodate larger groups of people, but would require a state coastal development permit. Cost estimated at $8.3 million.
Council members said that they would like more information about what uses are currently permitted on the site, saying that while they explore ways to finance renovation work they didn’t want to endorse future uses, such as hosting special events at the site, that require them to obtain state permit approval. The site is in the state’s coastal review region and uses that are not currently permitted would trigger a lengthy review process, they noted. They asked city employees to review the various proposals previously suggested by alliance members and create a chart showing which ones wouldn’t require new permits.
Once they have that information in hand, they said, they will revisit the renovation funding issue early next year and determine how much the city ought to spend to repair the buildings.
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