Imperial Beach is on its way to revamping a building once used as its fire station and adult school into what city officials said will become the “heart of the community.”
Members of the City Council last week awarded a $400,000 contract to San Diego-based Safdie Rabines Architects to develop architectural and engineering designs for the facility at 170 Palm Ave., which has sat vacant since 2019.
“This project represents an exciting opportunity to provide much-needed public access for recreation, learning, and community socialization,” said Eric M. Lindebak, a partner with Safdie Rabines, in a November letter to the city when proposing professional services.
The city-owned building once served as a fire station. It was then used as an adult learning center after the city leased it to the Sweetwater Union High School District in 1997. The district returned the building in 2019 after it stopped providing adult education, but the facility “had some default maintenance,” said Assistant City Manager Erika Cortez-Martinez.
“The skeletal structure of that building is still really solid, but it does have some work that we need to get done,” City Manager Andy Hall told council members in a previous meeting.
The building needs a roof replacement, ADA updates and new heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, according to the city.
Imperial Beach envisions using the vacant facility to serve as a space for residents to participate in “enrichment programs” as part of the city’s new Parks and Recreation Department.
Hall said the goal is to provide “less sports-minded recreation” and more “enrichment-minded recreation,” referring to “kids that don’t play football or soccer or baseball (and give them) an opportunity to learn … maybe the arts … or maybe the martial arts.”
There will be outreach opportunities for those experiencing homelessness or mental illness and who might need housing assistance. The building will also include classrooms to offer programs for cooking, fitness and English as a second language, as well as offer a meeting room the community can rent for events or conferences.
“The objective is to create a community center that will serve the entire community,” said Hall.
The renovation of the Palm Avenue building would mark a significant milestone in Imperial Beach’s plan of rebuilding its Parks and Recreation Department, said Cortez-Martinez.
The city dissolved the department in 2014 due to budget cuts and it is now building it from scratch. Its first step was to hire Shannon Bullock as the new department director. Imperial Beach then set aside millions of dollars in COVID-19 funds for recreation.
Of its $6.56 million stimulus allocation, the city is investing $2.68 million to improve the Palm Avenue building. It is also investing nearly $600,000 toward its Sports Park, $200,000 for the senior citizen center and about $752,000 to its Veterans Park multi-use field.
Those centers, however, are not entirely available to the community because they’re in dire need of repairs or are in use for COVID-19 testing, said Cortez-Martinez.
“In Imperial Beach we really have nothing,” she said. “The Palm Avenue (building) is basically going to be the heart of the community. This is where we’re going to offer programs and services to the community, not only for youth, but seniors, adults, etc.”
Its location is ideal, too.
“I think the vast majority of the community is very excited about 170 Palm because it’s just steps away from the beach and it’s kind of in the commercial area that goes to residential schools,” said Cortez-Martinez.
Councilmember Ed Springs said Wednesday he was glad to see “we’re moving forward quickly” because it is a “very important project, high priority.”