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Encinitas to seek bids for renovation of Pacific View property

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(Karen Billing)

Plans include making seismic safety modifications, increasing wheelchair accessibility, overhauling electrical system

Encinitas will seek construction bids this month for a long-sought renovation of the old Pacific View School property, the City Council decided during a special meeting Tuesday, Sept. 6, but stressed that this should be considered only a “first step” toward a much grander goal.

“I’m not backing down from we see here as our vision for the property,” Councilwoman Joy Lyndes said, as she mentioned her hopes for an outdoor gathering area and a rainwater harvesting system at the site. “This is the bare minimum that we need (to reopen the building to the public).”

Part of the estimated $5.3 million renovation project won’t be all that visible to the public once the proposed work is done. Those items include overhauling the support structure under the roof to make the building more earthquake-proof, renovating the aged electrical system, replacing the walkways and doorways to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and adding a fire sprinkler system.

However, the plans also include a new roof, flooring, countertops, lighting fixtures and fresh paint, inside and out. The job contract is expected to be awarded next month. Construction is forecasted to begin early next year and conclude in July 2024.

City officials and community members have long cherished the hope of transforming the 2.8-acre property into a city cultural center with art classes and special events. The city purchased the old school, which occupies a prime coastal bluff-top site along downtown’s Third Street, in 2014 from the Encinitas Union School District. At the time, opponents declared that the $10 million purchase price was ridiculously high for a school that hadn’t housed students in a decade. Proponents responded by stressing that the city wouldn’t be putting any additional money into the property because the place was expected to be self-sustaining, independently run and renovated.

For years, the Encinitas Arts, Culture and Ecology Alliance — a broad coalition of Encinitas arts enthusiasts and nonprofit groups — attempted to make this happen. Using donated labor and supplies, alliance members estimated they added about $1 million in value to the property. But, after failing to win city permit approval to host many money-making, special events at the site, they ultimately asked the city to step in. The council began exploring renovation options last year and decided in February to pursue limited changes that would not require the city to obtain major state coastal development permits.

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, several people who were involved in the arts alliance effort asked the council to rethink the latest renovation plans, saying they thought the city was going to spend far more than was necessary to make the buildings usable.

Garth Murphy, who estimated he put at least 2,000 hours of volunteer labor into the Pacific View property and helped lead the effort, said he strongly opposed the city’s plans to remove the roof and rework the understructure, given that the arts alliance previously put a new roof on the building. He also said the contractors shouldn’t take down the shade canopies or remove the benches the alliance installed, saying he hated to see money wasted.

Jon Humphrey, one of the founding members of the alliance, said he too thought the city reduce its construction costs and use the money saved for future arts programing at the site, while several artists said they supported the proposed renovation, but asked the council to wait on picking the building’s new paint colors — a decision city staff had asked the council to make that night.

“It doesn’t have to hold things up, or be a big deal, but I think (the paint choices) could use a little fine tuning,” said Deanne Sabeck, an Encinitas Friends of the Arts board member who got a chuckle when she said “beige is boring.”

After hearing from city employees that the paint decision could be postponed, the council agreed to hold off on that item and let the arts commission take a look at the proposed options. Council members also directed city employees to add into the project’s bid package a request to salvage the benches and the canopy structures and see if those could be repurposed later.

When it came to the roof work issue, however, a city-hired consult said that the building’s current roof had to be removed and the understory renovated in order to bring the building up to code and make it seismically safer.


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