The old Pismo Beach City Hall building on Bello Street has sat vacant for more than 20 years.
Now, it seems to be heading toward a new life as a fire station and communications center, as part of the city’s anticipated fire and police department expansion in that area.
The brick building has had myriad uses in its 94-year lifespan. It was built as a schoolhouse in 1923, housing Pizmo Grammar School until 1948. The city purchased the building in 1953 and used it as its city hall until 1995, until moving to its current City Hall on Mattie Road.
Since then, the Bello Street building has been used mostly for storage.
In 2012, the building came close to being demolished because of asbestos in the roof, water damage throughout the building and mold in the basement. Officials worried the building had become a collapse hazard. After some outcry from residents, the city decided to repair the more dangerous parts of the building and start figuring out how it could be reused.
On Tuesday, the Pismo Beach City Council heard a study regarding the Bello Street corridor — the council’s first step in determining how it can use the historic building without changing the character of the neighborhood.
“Generally what we heard was that they like the neighborhood,” Community Development Director Jeff Winklepleck said in presenting the study. “They did not want any sort of market or anything they thought would really change the character of that neighborhood.”
Staff recommended using the building to expand the neighboring fire and police stations. The two emergency services share a lot next to the old city hall building, and the tight quarters limit the two departments’ operations, staff said.
Because of space limitations at the fire station, staff operations are housed in a trailer behind the shared building. That means it takes longer for firefighters to “dress-out” (put on their safety gear) and get to their fire engines when responding to a call. The police station also could use more office space, parking and a larger IT room, according to the report.
Staff recommended maintaining the facade of the former school and building a new structure behind the facade for the fire department and communication center, which would free up space at the police station site for an expansion there.
Staff also recommended keeping the tennis court next to the former school building, since it is a busy recreation spot for the neighborhood (though some staff and council members noted the possibility of using the courts for pickleball).
The study showed that most residents supported repurposing the site for public safety expansions, Winklepleck said.
City Council members also were generally favorable to the suggestions, and they directed staff to look into hiring a consultant who specializes in upgrading historic buildings for public safety uses.
Councilwoman Marcia Guthrie did have one suggestion: She would like some nod to the building’s history included with the project.
“I think the history of the building is very interesting, and I would like to see something, you know, letting the public know about the history, what was going on at the time, where Pismo was at and what the building was used for,” she said.