A proposal for a new Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard facility, to replace the old portable trailers the program currently uses near the Balboa Pier on the peninsula, was the highlight of a lifeguard focused forum this week.
About two dozen local business owners and residents heard an update Tuesday on the city’s lifeguards and junior guard program during the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce Marine Committee meeting at Marina Park.
A larger, updated facility is needed for the popular summer program, said Graham Harvey, chairman of the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard Foundation.
“The current facility… has not scaled with the program,” he said. “It’s simply not adequate anymore.”
It is also a beautification project for the Balboa Village area, he added.
“The trailer is the last eyesore at the base of the Balboa Pier,” Harvey said.
It’s also a safety issue as the kids currently have to use the nearby public restrooms since the existing trailers don’t have running water, he noted.
A new facility is long overdue, several people agreed.
Lifeguard Captain and NBJG program coordinator Brian O’Rourke reported the history of the program. It was established in 1984, with two instructors and 50 kids. The program rapidly expanded, he said, and now utilizes about 60 instructors and support staff and averages between 1300 and 1400 young participants.
Despite the growth over the years, the program still operates out of portable trailers and temporary shipping containers parked on the sand near the pier.
The proposed structure, designed by the city’s lifeguard department, public works, and the city manager’s office, is a 4,895 square foot single story building. It will feature a training auditorium, bathrooms, locker rooms, a dedicated first aid center, administrative offices, space for secure storage, shaded deck, and more.
It checks off all the boxes of all the wants and needs of everyone involved, Harvey said.
The future headquarters is estimated to cost nearly $2.5 million, adding in possible extra fees and a contingency budget, for a total of $3.5 million.
Since it’s a city-owned property, it is a public works project, Harvey clarified. The Foundation is working as a private fundraising arm.
The NBJG Foundation, which has been raising funds for the building since last year, has collected about $130,000 toward their $500,000 goal. They hope to “go higher” than that figure, Harvey added.
The project has a very positive trajectory, noted Fire Chief Chip Duncan.
“Junior Guards is one of the things that’s right with the world,” Duncan said.
The kids are working hard, learning about the ocean and aquatic safety, he added.
It is a “youth-based program focused on educating children to recognize potential hazardous conditions associated with an ever-changing aquatic environment.”
Several of them will go on to be lifeguards in Newport Beach. A first class facility will maximize their experience, Duncan said.
“We’re pretty excited this thing is chugging along, slowly but surely,” Duncan said.
The idea of a new NBJG facility has been floating around for several years.
Construction of the new headquarters was notably absent from the City Council’s “early look” into the proposed 2018-19 Capital Improvement Program during the March 13 study session.
Last year, the city worked with the NBJG to create plans for a state-of-the-art building, but Public Works did not list it in their CIP plans for the upcoming fiscal year.
Councilwoman Diane Dixon, whose district is home to the NBJG on the Balboa Peninsula, asked that it be added as a line item for “Phase I…preliminary design work.”
Dixon received many thanks from the large number of people in the audience who had come out to support the NBJG headquarters at the March Council meeting.
Concerned parents, instructors, and former participants in the program described how children are currently forced to use the public restrooms with no permanent building to serve them. They implored Council members to act on a building a new headquarters.
Corona del Mar resident Joy Brenner, who has grandchildren in the program, said it’s “terrifying” knowing the children are using the public restrooms, alongside people who are not affiliated with the program. Several other speakers at the Council meeting agreed, raising concern for the safety of the young kids.
The grandparent population in Newport Beach is an “untapped source of funds for this program,” Brenner added.
Ashley Myer, a former junior guard, lifeguard, and instructor, who hopes her two daughters will soon be joining, said the current building doesn’t equal the program’s reputation.
“It is such a respected program in the city, and in the world,” Myer said.
Having a first-class facility to match and represent NBJG is important for the future of the program, Myer explained.
Kids come from all over Newport Beach, as well as some from inland Orange County and even a few from random cities across the country, in order to participate in the city’s junior lifeguard program.
Constructing the new proposed facility will “cement” the junior lifeguard program into the Balboa Village area for the next 30 to 50 years, Harvey explained.
“From a business perspective, it keeps the area vibrant,” Harvey said.
All the NBJG kids, plus their families, often visit local shops and restaurants in the area.
There are also opportunities for sponsorship with a “donor wall,” which will list people and businesses that contributed to the project. There has also been talk of possibly naming the building, Harvey added.
There is a lot of support in the community for the project, Harvey noted.
Jake Janz, brother-in-law to Ben Carlson, the first lifeguard to die in the line of duty in Newport Beach history, praised the junior guard program and supported the project during the March Council meeting.
Included in the program’s calendar this year is “Ben Carlson Day” on July 6, exactly four years after he died saving a swimmer in distress. Carlson was also a NBJG instructor. O’Rourke said the details of the special day are still being worked out, but the public, particularly former NBJG students, will be invited.
During the months when the junior lifeguard program isn’t running, officials anticipate other organizations will utilize the facility, like a scout meeting or a school field trip lesson, Harvey explained.
“We hope it’s used year-round and we think it would be,” Harvey said.
During an overall lifeguard update during the Tuesday meeting, Lifeguard Battalion Chief Brent Jacobsen reported that there were 10.6 million beach visitors last year. So lifeguards come into contact with a lot of people during the busy summer months.
In 2017, they conducted 3,050 rescues, 2,960 medical aids, and more than 80,000 preventative actions, he explained.
Jacobsen also mentioned the lifeguards resources, including rescue boats and vessels. There is a need for a fire boat, he added.
The Chamber’s free, public Marine Committee meeting is held at 5:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at Marina Park and covers a range of harbor-related topics.
Victoria Kertz contributed to this story.