For years, Newport Beach's Shellmaker Island has suffered from an old industrial image, thanks to its past life as the home of a dredging company. But Tuesday, the state unveiled plans for a $5-million face lift that will include a 20,000-square-foot marine studies center.
"The idea is to get Orange County residents excited about their environment by changing the island's industrial look and converting it to a study center for schoolchildren and residents," said John Scholl, a state Department of Fish and Game spokesman.
The plan calls for a working science laboratory, teaching lab and mini-aquariums to be built by 2003, officials said. Already, hundreds if not thousands of schoolchildren visit the existing center, housed in a tiny, two-room trailer on the 11-acre island.
Officials envision a state-of-the-art educational facility that will showcase Newport Beach's watershed ecology through educational programs and activities, said the center's architect, Ron Yeo of Corona del Mar.
Yeo has designed a modernistic, single-story structure shaped like the letter W. Outdoors, the new center will include an artificial tide pool exhibit, amphitheater, parking and trails for observing wildlife.
In addition, plans call for restoration of habitat on the island's west side to allow the public to view marine life. Officials hope that as schoolteachers learn of the project, they will bring students to the center or the county's new Upper Newport Bay Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, instead of taking them to the tide pools at Little Corona beach. Little Corona's tide pools and marine life have been damaged because of all the visitors they attract.
The marine studies center has been in the works since 1992, but funding and cooperation among various governmental jurisdictions has slowed planning, said Robert W. Garrison, a state consultant in charge of the project.
The project has won the support of Fish and Game, which is the island's landlord, Newport Beach, UC Irvine, the California Coastal Commission and the county.
"We still don't have all the funding locked in from the state yet," Garrison said. "But we're optimistic."
Shellmaker Island was so named because it served as a storage yard in the 1920s for sea shells that were ground up and mixed into chicken food.
Millions of shells bleached white by the sun are scattered across the island, Garrison said.
Garrison said the center will be built under a joint powers agreement with Newport Beach, which will be in charge of monitoring the construction.
The county's water-quality laboratory, now housed in cramped quarters in Santa Ana, also will be moved to the island's new center, said Douglas F. Moore, director of the county's public health laboratory.
About $1.2 million from the national tobacco settlement fund will be spent on the laboratory.
"We now have an 800-square-foot lab, and when the center is done, we will move into a 4,000-square-foot lab," Moore said.
The new laboratory also will eventually house research activities, including a water-quality study for San Juan Creek in South County and pollution studies for Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, he said.
UC Irvine crew facilities also will be part of the remodeling, courtesy of a recent gift to the crew team by Henry T. Nicholas III, chief executive of Broadcom Corp. Dan Guerrero, UC Irvine's athletic director, did not disclose the amount of the gift.