Old Pismo Beach city hall may be demolished

The old Pismo Beach city hall building on Bello Street was originally an elementary school, built in the 1920s.
The old Pismo Beach city hall building on Bello Street was originally an elementary school, built in the 1920s. File photo

For the past dozen years, the former Pismo Beach city hall building has sat mostly unused, except for some storage uses.

The brick building at 1000 Bello St. has an extensive past: it was originally built as a schoolhouse in 1923, with additional rooms, council chambers and auditoriums added in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

Later, it served as city hall for about 42 years, before the city relocated to its current location on Mattie Road in 1995 — a move that was called temporary at the time.

Today, the structure is showing its age: the roof leaks and contains asbestos, there is water damage and mold in the basement, and much of the building is not accessible to people with disabilities.

A recent report completed for the city found “the structure poses a significant risk to life, safety and is considered a collapse hazard.”

City councils for more than a decade have debated what to do with the building. From time to time, a council member has suggested moving city hall from its perch on Mattie Road back to the old site, but the idea hasn’t gained traction.

Now, the current council, after receiving an updated assessment of the building in November, has made a move toward another direction: demolition.

On Nov. 15, the council unanimously directed city staff to pursue demolishing the building while preserving some of the original brick façade and mosaics to possibly incorporate into a future, undetermined structure.

“I’m trying to make sure we preserve as much as possible of the original façade,” Councilman Ed Waage said. “While it would be nice to keep the whole building, it sounds like all the code issues all the handicapped issues, just is cost prohibitive to consider keeping it.”

Demolition wouldn’t happen anytime soon. The Pismo Beach Planning Commission would first have to approve that action, and the City Council would have to allocate funding to do so. Over the next few years, city officials will assess other uses for the site, which also includes basketball and tennis courts.

The council did not take action on a new facility, nor did it discuss what that structure might look like.

But the report estimated that it would cost about $6.4 million to renovate the existing, 15,327-square-foot building; about $6.3 million to demolish most of it and construct a new building while preserving the front and partial side façades; or about $8 million to demolish it and construct a new, 24,000-square-foot two or three-story structure.

Two local residents spoke at the council’s Nov. 15 meeting (including Pismo Beach resident Warren Hamrick, whose firm completed the assessment) and both urged the council to demolish the building and start fresh.

“This design looks like many schools and public buildings I’ve seen,” Marilee Hyman said. “Being old doesn’t make it valuable or historical. We’re just used to having it around.”

The city has never tried to add the building to state or federal historic registers — but it arguably has local historical significance as the oldest public building in town, said longtime resident Effie McDermott, the town’s unofficial historian and president of the nonprofit Friends of Price House.

“I think they should attempt to preserve the original core of the building, which would include the front entry and three rooms,” McDermott said Wednesday.

Oceano resident Wayne Roberts, who graduated from the grammar school’s last eighth-grade class in 1952, is upset at the idea of the building being demolished and believes it should have been preserved years ago.

“They didn’t treat it with any respect,” said Roberts, 73. “What they should do now is to try to clean it up and show the history of Pismo Beach. Pismo Beach has an amazing history. It was such a wonderful place to grow up.”