Storage and utility buildings, old steel sheds, the remnants from when leathernecks called home the airbase that is now becoming the Great Park are likely to be what is cleared out next as Irvine leaders enter the next phase of developing the city’s premier park.
Dozens of structures remain from the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Base, the majority scattered on a 125-acre section known as ARDA on the northeast edge of the Great Park. Once the proposed location of a state veterans cemetery, the undeveloped expanse is now slated for a large botanical garden featuring, among other components, a veterans memorial.
On another section dubbed the Cultural Terrace that is southwest of ARDA, off Skyhawk and Marine Way, a dozen more buildings remain, including a couple former aircraft hangars that have already been tapped for possible re-purposing. One stretch of land still owned by the Navy has five abandoned structures, including a storage building, an old water pump house and a workshop space.
Steve Torelli, Great Park manager, said anything that has potential for “productive reuse,” the city wants to save, but otherwise the goal is to clear out old, unreliable infrastructure and build new.
At the Navy-owned strip, which is under a lease agreement with the city until underground work is completed, demolishing four of the five vacant structures will open up 25 acres of land, on which special event parking could be constructed or an outdoor event area, Torelli said. A fifth abandoned building – an old cement warehouse – the city hopes to repurpose into an event space.
The structures there have become “kind of an eyesore,” some attracting vandalism, Torelli said. Once the dilapidated buildings are torn down, crews will throw new pavement over the ground “just to give it some added life and make it a little bit more usable,” he said.
The cost of demolition and cleanup of the site, which is expected to take about three months to complete, is estimated to be about $3.5 million. The project was included in last year’s budget, Torelli said. The city will soon go out to bid for the work.
Residents and city leaders have been eager to get to work cleaning up the old military remnants, especially on the ARDA site where some 77 abandoned structures remain. But not everything old will be wiped away.
Old military housing and an assortment of other tired construction such as ammunition bunkers, office buildings and garbage or wastewater plants still dot that area off Bosque and Cadence. The majority will be cleared in a first phase of demolition, city staffers said during a Great Park board meeting on Tuesday, while a handful of structures will be saved and studied for their possible historical significance.
In a 2020 survey of the structures, five were identified as being potentially eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resource, or under Irvine’s Cultural Resources Element. The buildings include an old El Toro searchlight tower, an airport control tower and second searchlight structure, as well as three helicopter hangars – two built in 1965 and one in 1966.
Irvine officials say they plan to keep those structures intact while they are further analyzed for their historical importance. The other ramshackle buildings, which would be challenging to restore, will be cleared.
City staffers said they are planning to have a cost estimate for ARDA site demolition ready soon for the City Council. An estimate by the state for cleanup, building demolition and hazardous waste removal costs at the ARDA site, performed in June in light of talks over the proposed cemetery, rang in at about $38 million.
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