County, Botanic Garden shift focus of $2.1 million gift

County, Botanic Garden shift focus of $2.1 million gift
A year after the county pledged $2.1 million towards the San Diego Botanic Garden’s second phase of its popular children’s garden, both entities announced the money will go towards other projects at the Encinitas garden. File photo

ENCINITAS — A year after the county pledged $2.1 million towards the San Diego Botanic Garden’s second phase of its popular children’s garden, both entities announced the money will go towards other projects at the Encinitas garden.

The Children’s Garden will now use the $2.1 million neighborhood reinvestment grant toward three major projects: the restoration of the historical Larabee House, the conversion of the Lawn House from a maintenance storage area into an visitors center and library, and the creation of an administrative and maintenance building.

“It is the first time in the county’s ownership that they have invested that much money into the garden itself, which speaks to fact we have raised the profile of the San Diego Botanic Garden,” said Julian Duval, the garden’s executive director. “It is a go-to place.”

Originally, the neighborhood reinvestment grant was earmarked toward the botanic garden’s ambitious plans for an indoor pavilion officially known as the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, which is planned on 4.5 acres of the 37-acre garden that is owned by the city. The remainder of the land is owned by the county and leased to the garden.

In order to facilitate the donation (the county can’t donate money for projects built on land not owned by the county), the parties entered into negotiations last year on a land swap, which at the time Duval said would spur fundraising efforts for the project.

Duval said the parties decided to table the discussions after they became too time consuming and threatened to delay the conservatory project, for which fundraising has since picked up.

“It would take so much time to go through the land swap and work out the different deeds, it was just going to take too long,” Duval said. “Plus the fact that we had already started working on the conservatory, we didn’t want to delay it and we had a fair amount of private donations. And when you start taking donations, people want to see the work moving forward.”

County Supervisor Dave Roberts then asked Duval what could the grant money be used for in place of the conservatory project, and that discussion led to the three-pronged project, which Duval said will make the botanic garden a more functional and user-friendly space.

The 1940s-era Larabee House, named after the garden’s founders Ruth and Charles Larabee, has been largely used as office space.

“It worked out fine, but it’s not the most appropriate use of that space,” Duval said. “Ideally we would like to make the Larabee House available as it was when they lived there for people visiting the garden to enjoy.”

The same goes for the Lawn House, which has been used as a staging area for maintenance crews and a garage for maintenance vehicles.

The creation of an administration and maintenance center, which is planned for an area used for overflow parking, will allow for those functions to be consolidated on the outskirts of the garden, thus opening more of the core space in the garden for the public’s enjoyment, Duval said.

Ultimately, Duval said, the county, city and garden must figure out the issue of dual ownership of the land, as the leases expire 10 years apart, which could create issues down the road.

“I think all the parties are invested in the outcome, so it will be something that we will tackle,” he said.

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