College will draft plans for Bolinas lab

09/20/2018

The College of Marin agreed last Tuesday to invest in the rehabilitation of the marine lab that has sat derelict beside the Bolinas Lagoon for more than a decade. In a unanimous vote, the board decided to hire a San Francisco architecture firm to develop a proposal for the project, an estimated $70,000 endeavor. 

It was a change of course for the school, whose administration previously pointed to a host of legal and financial obstacles that prevented it from putting money into the property.

The lab, built in the early 1900s as a Coast Guard station, has been closed since 2006 due to a number of critical health and safety issues, including a black mold infestation. The site includes a two-story house and a public dock—assets the college’s life and earth science department has advocated keeping. 

Yet until now, the school’s leadership has  argued  that a number of state laws—including the Field Act and the Alquist-Priolo Act—barred the college from using public funds to repair the lab due to its proximity to the San Andreas Fault. Last year, David Wain Coon, president of the college, expressed interest in transferring ownership of the lab to Bolinas or to a local nonprofit that could better access funds for repair. 

But this week, Mr. Coon told the Light that the design process was the best way to resolve the legal questions. 

“I think that everything will get fleshed out in this process,” he said. “My epiphany, for lack of a better word, was that we needed to determine the scope of the project and what it would take to get county approval. In this regard, hiring an architect seemed like the best path forward.” 

A trust fund of $240,000 earmarked for the lab unearthed this year has eased concerns about the cost of potential repairs, and to pay for the architectural plans the college will use Measure B funds, which in 2016 generated $250 million for facility upgrades for the college. 

Perkins Eastman Dougherty Architects, which has worked with educational institutions and state agencies like the California Coastal Commission and the Division of the State Architect—the latter enforces the earthquake laws of concern—will undertake the project. The firm will review all documentation and study reports, meet with the college’s faculty and leadership to determine acceptable programs for the site and conduct outreach meetings with both Bolinas and college community members. The goal is to complete the proposal by January and submit it to the county for review. 

Though there was excitement among Bolinas community members last summer around possible uses for the lab, many local stakeholders—such as the Rod and Boat Club, the school and the Bolinas Lagoon Advisory Council—signed onto a life and earth sciences department letter last December that urged the college to find a way to rehabilitate it. 

Joe Mueller, a senior professor of biology at the college who has rallied his department around saving the lab, said a lawyer who has been advising the department believes “that there are no legal and liability hurdles [to rehabilitation] and that safety issues will be accounted for and mitigated through the permitting process with the county.” 

Mr. Mueller said the school was finally uniting around action. “The faculty is thrilled that we have moved beyond the discussion phase to an action phase,” he said. “One of the trustees apologized for the distress to the faculty and others caused by the confusion about what needed to happen next and the delay in doing it, which was greatly appreciated.”