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Newport Beach gives green light to new $4.9 million junior lifeguard building

Newport Beach officials approved plans for a $4.9 million building near the Balboa Pier for the city’s junior lifeguard program, that could also be used for community events, rentals and meetings during the off season.

Approved by the City Council on March 9, the project still needs California Coastal Commission approval. If the city gets that go-ahead, the new building could be ready to go by summer 2023.

The city will pay about $2 million from the general fund for the new building, while the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard Foundation, a nonprofit, will fundraise and provide $1.75 million toward construction costs.

The funding gap of $1.1 million will be offset by removing a Junior Lifeguard Program fee subsidy from the city of $129 per participant. The fee will jump to $856 starting with the 2022 summer program.

Talks for a new junior lifeguard building date back about a decade, with early plans eying the sandy area south of the Balboa Pier.

Plans for that building, a taller version than the one approved, were pushed to the parking lot after concerns it would be too close to the sea and tidal zone.

Still, worries about potential flooding of the area exist, with officials wondering how the building would be protected if high tides and surf come up on the sand and throughout the lots and peninsula, as it did just last Fourth of July weekend.

“What would be the protection of the building?” Councilwoman Diane Dixon asked.

The building will be raised up a few feet off the ground and berms will be built in anticipation of big swell events, city staff said.

The location further back in the parking lot area means changes will be made to several other lots to accommodate the lost parking stalls, resulting in no net loss of spaces, staffers said in a report to the council.

Since the popular program started in 1984, junior guard instructors have worked out of 2,160- square-foot temporary trailers. But the demand has grown in the nearly four decades, with an estimated 1,350 participants and 60 instructors.

Graham Harvey, chairman of the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard Foundation, called it the biggest step yet in the nearly decade-long quest to get a building.

For the foundation, having the plans approved will help fundraising efforts.

When donors ask questions, they want to know three things: how much it costs, what will the building will look like and where will it be located.


With the plans approved, those questions were answered, giving contributors more information before they commit to help, he said.

Already, the foundation has cash and commitments of $1.1 million, he said, but still needs to raise about $650,000 by Jan. 1.

“We think now that this is approved, at a council level, we can get there within nine months,” he said. “We think that’s realistic.”

The temporary trailers the program uses were never meant to be permanent, with no running water or restrooms other than the ones used by the public, Harvey noted. The coronavirus pandemic last year put a spotlight on just how badly a new facility was needed.

“It was needed very badly, is I guess the best way to put it,” he said. “I think the pandemic showed there was a sanitation and safety issue that needs to be addressed … it’s needed now more than ever.”



Newport Beach Lifeguard Chief Mike Halphide said other locations years ago were studied, such as 15th Street between the Newport Pier and Balboa Pier. But after considering traffic flow, a smaller stretch of sand and surf conditions, it was decided that location was “not optimal.”

“We came back, looked at three locations in the Balboa area, this was selected as the premiere option,” Halphide said.

When the new facility is not being used by the program, the city’s Recreation and Senior Services Department will be able to use it for recreation programs, community meetings and special event rentals, which could generate an additional $50,000 per year in revenue, the staff report said.

The building will have a 1,135-square-foot meeting room, indoor and outdoor storage rooms, staff and meeting rooms, men’s and women’s locker rooms, a deck area, restrooms and small kitchen.

Laura Detweiler, recreation and senior services director, said the additional uses of the building will happen for eight months out of the year.

Usage could range from weddings or family gatherings, to community recreation classes or events, she said. Similar uses at Marina Park are “maxed out,” she said.

“The facility has exceeded all of our expectations and the community is enjoying it quite a bit,” she said.

Councilman Will O’Neill said there’s already been community interest to help get the new junior lifeguard headquarters built.

“We’re excited, I think this is a big deal,” he said.

There will be a donor wall on the  building for supporter recognition.

“It’s such an iconic program, it’s definitely part of our culture,” Councilman Brad Avery said. “I think it will be very good for our parks program and be another center in town that people can enjoy and be a part of.”

If approved by the Coastal Commission, construction could start fall 2022 and be completed in time for the Newport Beach Lifeguard Department’s 100-year anniversary.

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Source: Orange County Register

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