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New lab poised to help protect coastal waters

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Construction of a new water quality research and analysis laboratory eagerly anticipated by San Diego State University is due to be finished this fall. The Coastal Waters Laboratory will give SDSU faculty and students in marine biology and other fields an invaluable resource for studying the effects of pollution on Southern California's coastal environment - a system that provides a continuous flow of fresh seawater from San Diego Bay.

The $8 million laboratory San Diego State University Coastal Waters Laboratory is under construction on the Point Loma Coast and is due to be completed this fall.

"We have never had a unified lab to focus our efforts in this type of work," said Dr. Rick Gersberg, director of the SDSU Coastal and Marine Institute, which is affiliated with the laboratory. "The main purpose of the lab is to provide a flowing seawater system so researchers in a variety of fields can do work, whether it be with fish, algae, sea grasses or other organisms that live in California's coastal waters. Flowing seawater is the essence of any quality sea lab."

The $8 million laboratory is located on the coast of Point Loma at the site of the old Naval Training Center, land transferred to SDSU by the city of San Diego. Ultimately, SDSU hopes the Coastal Waters Laboratory will become a hub for top researchers studying environmental and ecological problems related to the urbanization of Southern California's coast.

Making the Coastal Waters Laboratory a reality has been a collaborative effort between the university, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the city's Metropolitan Wastewater Department (MWWD). Both SDSU and the USGS will be tenants of the facility, which is adjacent to a laboratory built by the MWWD last year. Together, the two labs will form a "Coastal Zone Campus" that will promote the sharing of information, research ideas and activities among local, regional and federal entities.

"This campus environment is important because it supports a collaborative effort between the city, university and USGS to focus on various aspects of coastal zone issues," said Gersberg.

According to Gersberg, these issues will become more important as both the region and the state continue to grow. He said the combined populations of San Diego and Tijuana are projected to increase by 3 million in the next 25 years, while the population of California is expected to increase by 10 million for a total of nearly 50 million people.

"Many of these people will live near the coast, which puts a lot of pressure on our coastal resources," Gersberg explained. "The Coastal Waters Laboratory will benefit the region and California by focusing research on ways to prevent, restore or help protect coastal zone resources."

The two-story, 50,000-square foot Coastal Waters Laboratory building - which includes about 9,000 square feet dedicated to the lab itself - was designed by Pacific Cornerstone Architects (PCA). The firm has been working on the project for about three years.

"We had to come up with a flexible design that allows for the lab to start out small but have the capability to grow and evolve over time," said Tim Schulze, a PCA principal. "Another big challenge in a project like this is getting seawater into the research lab and providing enough of it. The building includes an outside yard where seawater is distributed below slab and goes up into various tanks and an indoor lab."

In addition to the seawater system, the laboratory will feature a large hall for classes, lectures and workshops; a boat maintenance and scuba diving facility; various analytical, research and wet laboratories; a Coastal Zone GIS laboratory; and a Virus and Pathogen Laboratory. Outside, there is an additional 10,000-square-foot lab area.

The Coastal Waters Laboratory lobby will be open to the public and include kiosks with different displays that tell the stories of SDSU, the USGS and the region. In front of the building, a large pond with native plants and fish will both enhance the entrance area and serve as a learning environment.

"SDSU also plans to use the lab as a fundraising facility - there's meeting space on the ground floor," said PCA principal Kevin Perry. "They can bring benefactors there to support a whole range of functions. SDSU is very excited about this building. There really isn't another facility like it in San Diego."


O'Donnell is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

Sidebar Architect: Pacific Cornerstone Architects General Contractor: Ledcor Petty Construction Sub-contractors: Hope Engineering (structural engineer); McParlane & Associates (mechanical engineer); MPE (electrical engineer); Architectural Landscapes; (landscape design) Funding: non-state tax exempt bonds

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