Solana Beach gives tepid OK on fire station art installation

Solana Beach is moving forward on its art installation at the city’s fire station — but with an eye toward making sure the design isn’t too tall or brightly lit.

A year after slating the spot for public art, the council on Wednesday, April 26, choose its favorite from three proposals, opening a 45-day public comment period during which time the artist and landscape architect will provide a better sense of the scope, scale and placement.

City officials have been eyeing the spot — at Lomas Santa Fe Drive’s intersection with Nardo Avenue — for an art installation since June 2013. Two months ago, the city’s Public Arts Committee picked three favorites from nine submissions. Councilmembers chose the design “Fire Wall” over the other two finalists by a 4-0 vote, but fretted that the design submitted don’t give a good enough sense of its visual impact.

“I don’t think what’s in here is enough for the public to get a good feel for what we would want there,” said Councilman David Zito.

And if Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer had her druthers, she would have been choosing from designs that were simpler and more dramatic.

“I don’t want to elicit a massive groan, but I would be in favor of starting over,” she said before abstaining from the vote.

Mayor Mike Nichols, in pushing toward a selection, acknowledged that the city can go back to the drawing board if the design sparks an uproar.

“This is a process. One of the harder things we do up here is public art, because everybody’s got an opinion about it,” he said. “The only way you can really tell is show it to them.”

As proposed, the design centers around a wall of fused glass 10 feet tall, six feet wide and a foot thick, wrapped in a wire cage and surrounded by succulents and perennials shaped into “flames” meant to evoke a fire dancing around the wall. LED lights inside the wall would give it a soft glow.

“What’s really interesting about the fused glass is that it’s all made by fire,” Del Mar-based artist Betsy K. Schulz told the council. “So there’s a relationship there, with the concept of how the art is created and the idea of what the firemen do.”

Schulz and her partner in the project — Van Dyke Landscape Architects from Solana Beach — assured the council that they will be flexible on the size, placement and orientation of the entire installation.

Part of that flexibility includes a small amphitheater that would be used to give demonstrations that the station’s firefighters give to the hundreds of children who go to school within walking distance. The amphitheater would cost $27,000 beyond the $70,000 the city has earmarked for the project. The city has slightly more than $140,000 in its reserve for public arts projects.

Schulz and VDLA have extensive project histories for the city. In 2003, Schulz created the gateway arches at the southern entry of the Coastal Rail Trail, followed two years later by the mosaic mural at Fletcher Cove Park. Her more recent public projects include the donor wall at the Del Mar Lifeguard station and an installation at Carlsbad Firestation 3. Learn more about her work at www.betsykschulz.com.

The portfolio for Solana Beach-based Van Dyke Landscape Architects dates back more than 40 years. They will soon begin work on the city’s $300,000 skate park that breaks ground later this year.

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