Cayucos Vet’s Hall Project Gets Underway

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

December 15, 2022

Kneeling from left with shovels in hand are: Dist. 2 County Supervisor Bruce Gibson; County Public Works Director John Diodati; and County Parks Director Nick Franco, with Cayucos community members raising their fists in celebration that the Vet’s Hall is going to be repaired after being closed since 2016. Photo by Neil Farrell

Cayucos community members and County government leaders gathered Dec. 2 at the Cayucos Pier Plaza to mark the kick-off of a project to repair and restore the historic Cayucos Vet’s Hall.

Dist. 2 County Supervisor Bruce Gibson recalled how many years ago while talking with a local man, he’d said it would be a snowy day in hell before it could be rebuilt. 

“We stand in the middle of the civic heart of Cayucos,” Gibson said to a gathered crowd of a couple hundred people. He noted that the Cayucos community, working with the County has been able to get quite a few things accomplished, such as the playground on the beach, the Pier and the Pier Plaza and its iconic dolphin sculpture by artist Dale Evers, as examples. 

“This is emblematic of the community coming together with people who can get things done,” he said, giving a nod to the County Public Works Department. “The resiliency of this community is absolutely extraordinary.” He also joked that Cayucos residents’ first impulse would have been to roll up their sleeves and just go fix the building, but with a historic structure like the vet’s Hall, it’s nowhere near so simple.

He thanked several agencies and individuals who helped pull together the funding, including State Sen. John Laird; the California Natural Resources Agency; the State Coastal Conservancy; the State Parks Foundation and Coast District Superintendent Dan Falat. 

“Many layers of government came together to make this possible,” Gibson said. “This has been a community hall forever.

Public Works Director, John Diodati said, “We love groundbreakings and kickoff meetings. We build things at Public Works.”

He thanked the County Administrative Office for its support, and the County Controller the Auditor’s Office, which gave the go-ahead for a bond sale to complete several projects — a new Probation Department HQ, and a new Cal Fire/Sheriff’s dispatch center, as well as the Vet’s Hall.

County Supervisors “recognized the importance of this project to the region as a whole,” Diodati said. “We had so many dead ends and low points thrown at us, but we never stopped working.”

Greg Bettencourt, who is among the leaders in a community effort to raise money to support the project, pointed out several in the audience “who are doers,” including, he said, those who work behind the scenes at the County. 

He noted that the group, Restore Cayucos Vet’s Hall Committee, had raised money for the construction and was continuing to raise money for new furnishings, as the $11 million repair bill doesn’t include new furnishings. 

The Committee began fund money in October 2021 and in the last year raised over $500,000 for the project from well over 500 people and organizations. The committee pledged $435,000 to SLO County to be used for construction. Bettencourt said they want to raise another $200,000 for furnishings, to replace what’s been in storage for the past 6 years.

Putting together all the funding must have been an enormous challenge, even with a project that everyone wants to see done. 

The County had $5.95M in hand for the project when the bids came in last May, including $471,600 from the general fund, $1.93M of State aid, and $3.55M of “internal bridge loans from the Tax Reduction Reserve Fund, according to the report. The total project cost is now estimated at more than $11M, which meant the County needed to find another $5 million.

The various funding sources include: $4.43M from the California Resources Agency; $345,000 from the State Coastal Conservancy; and $705,000 from State Parks.

The project is also relying on $471,000 from the County general fund; $1M from the State Veterans Affairs budget; $60,000 from the Cayucos tourism board funds; $50,000 from Dist. 2 Community Donations Fund; and $3.53M in bond financing

Originally built as a warehouse for the old Cayucos Landing by Capt. James Cass in 1873, the building has been used as a vet’s hall and community gathering and events space since the 1950s. 

It has hosted countless wedding receptions, community meetings, and special events like the Annual Sea Glass Festival, the Portuguese I.D.E.S. Festival, and 4th of July Events. 

But an inspection in 2016 that discovered extensive rotting to the floor under the hall’s stage, and walls that were no longer connected to the roof beams, forced its closure to the public over fears the roof could collapse or blow off in bad weather. 

Though that hasn’t happened in the intervening years, once such a declaration is made on a public building, it really can’t be used again until it’s fixed. And fixing a historic structure like this, takes time and a lot of money.

The County went out for bids last March and in May opened two bids from JG Contracting of Nipomo for $9.5 million, with a higher bid coming in from Edwards Construction Group, Inc., from Santa Maria at over $9.6M. 

The County did some shuffling with the scope of work and brought the low bid down to $8.56 million but a few more changes, in particular to roofing materials, and the final contract award was for $9.41M.

Funding the project has been a long and winding road. “At time of bid,” the County report said, “the project had a budgeted of $4.5 million for the construction contract, so awarding a contract in the amount of $8,560,000 was not feasible. Since that time, staff has worked to secure additional project funding from various sources to augment the project budget sufficiently to be able to move forward with award of the construction contract.”

The project plans are to “raise the building’s foundation 2.5-feet above its current level to protect it against sea level rise, secure the structural integrity of the building, restore its historic fabric, enhance coastal access with ADA-compliant connections between the facility, the beach, and the pier, and most importantly restore this important cultural and economic resource to the community and the region,” said a County report.

It’s expected to take about 2 years to complete but when it’s done, Cayucos will be well positioned well into the future, in so far as its iconic structures are concerned.

The Cayucos Pier also underwent an complete rebuild several years ago, after an inspection noted it had lost many pilings, while others were no longer connected to the deck, which itself was in rough shape.

Indeed, the Cayucos Pier, before being rebuilt was a regular “Galloping Gurtie” of sorts, swaying back and forth in heavy seas or when lots of people were on it, like during the Annual Polar Bear Dip and the Lost at Sea Memorial Day Ceremony. 

It too was closed for some time before money was pulled together to restore it. The Pier was originally built by Capt. Cass at about the same time as the Vet’s Hall.

Now the pier stands fully restored and likely to last another 75-100 years, with its sister structure the Vet’s Hall due to be the same.

Studio Design Group, Inc., was chosen to do the design work and its renderings closely resemble what the Vet’s Hall originally looked like in the horse and buggy days when it was first built.

If readers would like to contribute to the Restore Cayucos Vet’s Hall Committee, see the website at: www.restorecayucosvetshall.org. Donations are tax deductible.

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