DEL MAR — It’s been said you can’t fight city hall.
But armed with golden sledgehammers, council members took turns trying to knock it down at a June 11 demolition kick-off event.
“I can’t wait to take the first swing at this old building,” Don Mosier said.
“I’m hoping I can knock one of those bricks through a window,” added Dwight Worden.
But it was Al Corti who found the sweet spot that made the first crack in the nearly 100-year-old facility.
“Down, down,” he shouted as bricks hit the ground.
The facility — built in the 1920s for Del Mar’s first public school, which later became St. James Academy — has been the seat of city government since the mid-1970s.
Councilman Terry Sinnott said when the city bought the building more than three decades ago the intent was to use it as a temporary home for City Hall.
“It’s been temporary ever since,” he said.
“We cannot be accused of rushing this project,” Worden said.
Through the years the building began to deteriorate, to the point where only half could be occupied because of safety reasons.
“We’ve been living with water leaks, environmental hazards, no indoor bathrooms, limited space for the public to do business and cramped space for our employees,” Sinnott said.
Mosier said city staff deserved hazard pay for working in the old building, which will be torn down and replaced with an $18 million civic center complex only slightly larger than the existing facility.
He said it will benefit the entire community, not only with improved chambers for council meetings “that might be boring,” but also with areas for concerts, meetings and fun public events, including the farmers market that is temporarily being held at the Shores property.
“This has been a project that had a wonderful Del Mar process,” Mosier said, noting that the majority of the space will be devoted to public access and use.
““I’m proud of the process. … It’s your project,” he said to the approximately 100 people in attendance.
That process included numerous public workshops, meetings and a survey during the past several years “to make sure what we were preparing for the future is what the community wanted,” Sinnott said.
“We have been a team of wild horses … making this happen,” Mayor Sherryl Parks said.
Corti described it as “design by committee.”
“I didn’t think we could do it but the outcome worked out really, really well,” he said. “The town hall will be an iconic building that will represent Del Mar for the next 100 years.”
“It takes a village to destroy a white elephant,” Worden said.
Plans call for a City Hall, Town Hall, meeting spaces, open plazas and a catering kitchen. Although the current design was approved months ago, the project continues to evolve.
Most recently council members agreed to limit parking to a single level rather than build an underground structure.
Most Del Marians, including longtime resident Tensia Trejo, said they are a little sad to see the old building go but it’s time to move on.
“Progress is good,” she said. “We should have done this years ago and we could have saved about $10 million.”
Several attempts to improve or replace the facilities over the years have failed.
An official groundbreaking will be held in the fall. Until then the property will be fenced off while abatement of potential hazardous materials is conducted.
After remarks by council members, former Mayor Richard Earnest, with help from Charles “Cap” Pinney, took down the American flag in front of the building.
It was folded and presented to Parks with plans to raise it when the new complex opens in late 2017.
Council members then donned orange hard hats and began taking swings at the old building.
“We’re coming to an end of one chapter in the city’s history and this is the beginning of a new chapter,” Parks said.
Following the demo kick-off event, an auction was held in the annex to sell surplus equipment that included chairs, desks and other office supplies. About 40 items were sold for a total of $148.
Any salvageable remaining items will be donated to nonprofit organizations.