Marine lab gets permits

01/27/2021

The abandoned college lab in downtown Bolinas is one step closer to being demolished and rebuilt, following the issuance of county permits last month after years of planning. The College of Marin now has the coastal permit, design review clearance and use permit necessary to raze the three structures and build a new, 2,416-square-foot educational lab facility; it still must obtain its building permit. 

“It’s a milestone to have essentially completed the permitting process,” said Joe Mueller, a senior biology professor and Inverness resident. He added, “For anyone who wants to be able to get field experience at a marine research station, you usually have to go to a big university. But now you can go to a community college and spend less and still have that opportunity. That’s big, really big, from an equity perspective.” 

The lab has been closed since 2006 due to a number of critical health and safety issues. Addressing public concern about the deteriorating building, three years ago, the college started getting serious about finding a way to rehabilitate the lab, and even presented the idea that a Bolinas nonprofit take over ownership. But alumni and professors from the earth and environmental sciences department pushed back, hoping to restore the lab for their students. 

Their efforts were effective: With legal counsel, the department disproved the administration’s argument that it could not use public monies for repairs due to the lab's proximity to fault lines. In 2018, administrators determined there were no legal barriers to using the college’s funds for a rehabilitation—and unearthed a private trust with $240,000 earmarked for the lab. 

Bolinas community members have remained involved throughout the process. Parking has caused some concern: The use of a handful of off-street parking spaces on the narrow and congested stretch of Wharf Road will now be reserved for the lab. Others were concerned about the modern design of the plans. The college recently incorporated a lantern feature in the design to honor the original structure’s legacy as a lifesaving station, as well as an informational history plaque. 

At the Deputy Zoning Administrator’s hearing when the permits were approved, the only people who spoke voiced support. “I think people have wanted the more traditional look of the building, but it’s still going to be nice to have the college active there again,” Ralph Camiccia said.