THE NEW DOCKWEILER YOUTH CENTER at Dockweiler State Beach is a state-of-the-art facility offering training in aquatic sports and water safety to youths from all over the county. (Argonaut photo by T.W. Brown)

Los Angeles County officials, including Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe, dedicated the new Dockweiler Youth Center at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo Wednesday, October 21st.

The Water Awareness, Training, Education and Recreation (WATER) program will utilize this new state-of-the-art facility as an additional operational location for its established activities and camps that bring youth from all over the county to the beach, said Santos Kreimann, director of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.

The program teaches children important safety and lifesaving skills such as CPR and first aid, and offers aquatic sports like surfing, sailing, bodyboarding and kayaking.

The new center will also be used as a recreational facility with the implementation of recreational programming that the Department of Beaches and Harbors hopes to expand. Initial planned programming includes eco beach walks, arts and crafts for children, yoga, dance and cooking classes and shore fishing.

The 8,800-square foot community youth center includes a 3,000-square foot room that will be used for various meetings and can be rented for public use, said county officials.

The center also features a state-of-the-art kitchen with refrigerators, a freezer, ice machine and a professional-grade stainless steel stove.

A three-station administration area will be used by Beaches and Harbors staff who will operate the facility. An ample storage area located on the first floor will house brand new aquatic equipment for the WATER program, county officials said.

Situated on the beach at 12505 Vista del Mar, across from the Hyperion Plant, the youth center has panoramic ocean views from an outdoor patio. A county parking lot provides space for public parking.

Kreimann told the audience that he grew up in Los Angeles and didn’t see the beach until he was in the sixth grade and participated in a program much like WATER.

Isidore Dockweiler, for whom the beach and center are named, was an attorney and very influential in politics and social causes. He was instrumental in the growth of the Los Angeles Public Library, holding office as its president from 1901 to 1911.

Dockweiler also served on the state board of parks and beaches, and after his death, the Venice-Hyperion Beach was renamed Dockweiler State Beach in his honor.

“It’s been a long haul, but we’re finally here. We’re very proud of our new facility and we’re honored to have Don Knabe here with us today who will officially dedicate this spectacular community facility,” Kreimann said.

“The supervisor has been a longtime supporter of the Dockweiler Youth Center project, providing leadership and commitment for its completion and we thank him for his unwavering support.”

Knabe noted, “Obviously there’s much to celebrate today. This has been a long time coming.”

The supervisor also spoke of the recent passing of former Beaches and Harbors director Stan Wisniewski, who is survived by two children.

“He retired at the end of March 2008 as the director of Beaches and Harbors. This is a project that was very important to him, this facility,” Knabe said. “I haven’t talked to Santos but I’m trying to think of an appropriate way to honor Stan’s memory. A plaque in this building might be the appropriate manner because that was a long time project.

“We’ve been dreaming about this youth center a few years, even before I became a supervisor back in 1991 when the general plan for Dockweiler State Beach was approved,” Knabe continued.

“In 2001, the county asked the state department of parks and recreation for our new youth center. Fortunately, the grant was granted back then when the state actually had money to spend on projects like this.

“This building will primarily be used for our Water Awareness, Training, Education and Recreation Program. The program was developed in 1986 to provide LA County youth with education and recreation opportunities regarding water and beachfront environment. It’s been out of trailers and whatever they could find to store equipment in for many, many years in the facilities in Marina del Rey. No more, they have new headquarters here and we’re excited about it.”

Knabe said the project cost was approximately $7 million. Funding sources included the State of California, with $3 million from the state Proposition 12 Local Assistance Grant Program for locally operated units of the State Park System Competitive Program.

Funding from Los Angeles County provided $2 million from the Vehicle License Fee Special Fund and $2 million came from Knabe’s Capital Projects Fund, he said.

“This is actually Phase II and we dedicated Phase I in 2007 here at the beach. This is a great day. While everyone thinks this is a dead end when you come down off the 105 Freeway at Imperial Highway, this is really a crown jewel of beaches here in our region,” the supervisor said.

“This is a wonderful place, a wonderful day, we’re excited about it, and it’s been a long time. I can’t help but think that Stan would be really excited because it goes back to his early days here.”

Following Wisniewski’s retirement, Kreimann said he had relied on the former director to guide him and answer questions. He said that he truly missed Wisniewski. Kreimann lauded Wisniewski’s insight, hard work and strong convictions over the years he headed the department.

Jacob Williams, the assistant director of the county Department of Public Works, said, “On behalf of Gail Farber, the director of Public Works, who couldn’t be here today, I’m proud to be here for the opening of this beautiful facility.

“The Dockweiler Youth Center is another excellent example of the kinds of exciting facilities that can be developed when governments and other agencies join in partnership and collaboration on behalf of the community.”

“In this case, the youth center team included Supervisor Knabe and his staff, the county Chief Executive Office, Department of Beaches and Harbors, and Public Works, the California State Department of Parks and Recreation and the California Coastal Commission,” Williams continued.

“This $7 million, 8, 800-square foot youth center will provide a permanent home for the Water Awareness, Training, Education and Recreation Program for 22 years. This vital program has provided opportunities for inner-city and at-risk children to increase their awareness of ocean beach safety and for all that time, as the supervisor mentioned, the program operated out of temporary trailers in Marina del Rey. Finally after 22 years of waiting, we can now say ‘Welcome Home.’”

“Since its inception, the program has served over 60,000 youngsters and through its efforts has no doubt saved many young lives,” Williams said. “With this new facility, Beaches and Harbors anticipates an initial 15 percent increase in youth participation in the WATER program, and when not in use for the program, the facility can be made available to the community for recreational programs, used for special events, thereby adding a valuable resource to the community.”

He added, “The center was also designed to meet the Board of Supervisors’ sustainable design program of developing environmentally friendly facilities. The center utilizes recycled construction materials and finishes, energy efficient equipment, natural ventilation, and clearly takes advantage of abundant natural light.

“It also features an on-site underground infiltration system to capture and percolate storm water runoff to help reduce pollution.

“We can also acknowledge that Isidore Dockweiler himself, born in Los Angeles in 1897 when it was a pueblo with a population of about 4,500, rose to become a prominent lawyer and politician. Among his many accomplishments, he was instrumental in making it a law to fly the California flag alongside the US flag in our public buildings.

“Dockweiler was humble and shied away from public recognition, but he’d be proud the facility bears his name,” said Williams.

Kreimann also acknowledged the work of architect Randall Stout in designing the unique facility.

“This is so much different than a strip mall, when you have an opportunity to affect lives such as the kids you saw out on the beach on your way in, or you know the fabulous WATER program that the county offers that builds these kids’ confidence,” Stout said.

“It gives them knowledge to enjoy their lives fully around water in the future. When you build a building like this, it’s a 50-plus year building; it’s not just the present generation you’re thinking of but several generations to come.”

Stout noted that the building is meant to respond to the current needs of the WATER program and takes advantage of sustainable design elements, offering a fresh new look on the beach.

Donations were made to the program by Lynn McLaughlin, director of the Sylmar Hang Gliding Association, with a $1,000 check, and by the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), with the donation of new AVP junior nets and a net full of professional volleyballs.