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Laguna Beach council to determine future of historic sewer digester, following calls for renovation, again

The future of the historic sewer digester building at the corner of Forest and Laguna Canyon Road is up in the air again, following a January proposal for renovation of the building by Greg and Barbara MacGillivray.
The future of the historic sewer digester building at the corner of Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road is up in the air again, following a January proposal for renovation of the building by Greg and Barbara MacGillivray.
(File Photo)

The 1930s historic sewer digester in Laguna Beach is making its return to City Council chambers again this Tuesday when members will decide whether to demolish, preserve or repurpose what residents called in September a part of the city’s folklore and identity.

The council previously directed staff set into motion plans to remove the sludge in the tower at the corner of Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road in addition to beginning the processes for an economic analysis on the feasibility of renting out the building and begin the process for an environmental impact report to determine what it might cost to demolish it.

The majority of council members said they did not see merit in spending money to restore the deteriorating building, which is a K-rated structure on the city’s historic register, meaning it retained its original integrity and demonstrates a particular architectural style or time period.

Council members will also consider whether to preserve the building and make minor modifications to its first floor so it can be used as a storage facility.

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Demolition and restriping for five new parking spots are estimated to cost $400,000. Reconfiguration of that space to yield 17 parking spaces instead is about $700,000.

Preservation of the building, on the other hand, for use by the Laguna Beach Police Department is estimated to cost $271,000, while restoration of its exterior — including painting, patching, renovating its exterior stairs and deck — is estimated to total $930,000.

The council will also consider a proposal submitted by local residents Greg and Barbara MacGillivray in February, to help pay for the addition of a public restroom and then lease the entire property from the city for use as a small cafe, retail or gallery space.

But staff found that the MacGillivrays’ proposal would require higher parking requirements, improvements to the second-floor deck, providing water and sewage services and further restoration. They offered $500,000 for the plan but according to a staff report, the project would cost between $3.3 million and $4.8 million.

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Members will also be voting Tuesday to award a bid to remove, transport and dispose the sludge in the building, which contains elevated levels of copper, lead, zinc, mercury and organic waste. Staff said in September that the sludge would be considered hazardous waste by the state and would need to be taken to a licensed facility in Arizona for disposal at an estimated cost of $60,000.

A new, adjusted estimate with Patriot Environmental Services has now pushed that cost to about $175,000, with council to set aside an additional $15,000 from the city’s parking fund as a contingency in case the amount of sludge to be transported is larger than current estimates.

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