The College of Marin is hoping to drum up more public support and funding for its restoration of the Bolinas Marine Lab. The century-old lifesaving station turned marine lab was demolished in May after years of disuse, over the protests of some locals, including historians. The project is set to enter the permitting stage, but the college still needs to raise $2.5 million.
At a virtual community meeting last month, college officials said they have enough funding from a Measure B bond to get started on the $5.4 million rebuild: a modern, whale-bone-colored design by architecture firm Perkins Eastman Dougherty. But they will be seeking donations from foundations and Marin residents in the new year to reach their goal.
Keith Rosenthal, the college’s director of advancement, said the fundraising goal might seem daunting, but in the last month he’s already seen significant interest from donors, including the centenarian Marin environmentalist Marty Griffin, one of the founders of Audubon Canyon Ranch.
“By May we’ll be going full throttle on all wheels,” Mr. Rosenthal said. Construction on the first phase of the project is expected to start over the summer, and the building is set to be finished by spring 2023.
The marine lab’s sensitive location, on soft, lagoon-adjacent soil vulnerable to liquefaction and sandwiched between Wharf Road homes, added to the expense of the project, officials said. They had to hire a geotechnical consultant and will use a costly mat foundation. The foundation, also called a floating raft, is needed to stabilize the building, and the college said its construction won’t cause as much disturbance to neighbors as a simpler pier foundation.
The unassuming site has a rich local history. It was a United States Coast Guard lifesaving station for decades, serving as the home base for rescue missions along the rocky Marin coastline before it closed after World War II. Duxbury Reef, which caused many shipwrecks during the lifesaving station days, became a focus of research when the College of Marin converted the building into a marine laboratory in 1955.
More than 15 years ago, structural safety concerns shuttered the lab, the only one of its kind in the country to be operated by a community college. Since then, the college’s marine biology program has relied on biweekly field trips from the Kentfield campus. “The marine lab’s been in my car,” said Joe Mueller, a marine biology professor who as a student studied at the lab and is one the project’s leaders.
Mr. Mueller said the restoration will finally allow his program and others at the College of Marin to again take full advantage of the lab’s prime location near the Bolinas Lagoon and Duxbury Reef. “We’re in coastal California, and we should be able to teach marine biology the way you can in coastal California,” he said.
Before the original building’s demolition, historians raised concerns about a report included in the college’s permit application that found the buildings to be ineligible for protection. Bolinas Museum curator Elia Haworth said the report’s description of the town’s historic area was random and inaccurate. The historic structure was ultimately demolished. The new design incorporates a Coast Guard bell to pay homage to the site’s original use.
Mr. Mueller said the choice came down to preserving the building or reopening the lab, and the latter took priority. He hopes that neighbors will agree and pitch in to help fund the project, which he said has community benefits.
The lab for years hosted a summer program taught by the college’s marine biology students, where Bolinas kids could view specimens in saltwater tanks and experience a research environment. Bolinas-Stinson Summer Camp director Kathy Bustamante said at the community meeting that she remembered the lab camp fondly and hoped the new design would incorporate the old features. “The feeling of the room was so magnificent, it just drew everyone into it immediately and completely,” Ms. Bustamante said.
Mr. Mueller said the design would include saltwater tanks that would be accessible to all ages, and he hopes to reestablish the summer camp and expand programming for young people by collaborating with Audubon Canyon Ranch.
Wharf Road neighbor and Bolinas Community Public Utility District board member Kirsten Walker raised some questions at the meeting about the construction budget, including why the college’s projected “soft” costs for engineering, equipment and services were higher than normal. She also said it would be important to consult the community about the staging area for construction, given that the section of Wharf Road is a cramped dead-end street.
Still, Ms. Walker told the Light she was excited about the project and said Bolinas would pitch in to help. “I’m confident that the community could help them raise the funds if they continue to be transparent and forthright with the project,” she said.
Neighbor David Richman said his stucco house was damaged by shaking from a jackhammer during demolition, and he asked for some assurance that the construction would not cause further damage.
Isidro Farias, the college’s director of capital projects, said he could provide more information to Mr. Richman and other neighbors at the next community meeting, which will take place in June.