SAN DIEGO – Thousands of San Diego residents and visitors alike turned out May 10th for the daylong slate of festivities celebrating the grand opening of the new San Diego County Administration Center Waterfront Park, located on a prime, 12-acre site along Pacific Coast Highway between Ash and Grape streets in downtown San Diego.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., led the successful execution of the $49.4 million design-build project. McCarthy’s design-build team included SGPA, architect-of-record; Schmidt Design, landscape architect of record; Aquatic Design Group, fountain designer; and IPD (International Parking Design) for the parking portion of the project. The project broke ground in fall 2012, and was completed on time.

The San Diego County Administration Center Waterfront Park development project converted the large eight-acre, on-grade parking lots north and south of the historic Administration Center and the immediate outdoor areas west and east of the building to a large, 12-acre community and regional open space amenity. The park encompasses a promenade, two expansive greens, themed specialty gardens, plazas and terraces, a picnic area, shade trees and palm groves, a large children’s playground and public restrooms. It also includes a single-level, subterranean parking garage located off Ash Street that accommodates 251 cars.

“This new Waterfront Park will serve as the ‘front porch’ of downtown San Diego’s North Embarcadero, and become one of our city’s civic treasures -- now and in generations to come,” said San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who has championed the park project for over 15 years. “I could not be more proud to see this project become reality for the more than a million guests that are expected to visit and enjoy it each year.”

The central design element of the park are lighted fountains that run a total of 830 feet long on either side of the County Administration Building, with 31 jets that shoot water 14 feet up into the air and down into shallow splash areas for children. The north side of the building has four basins with 18 jets, while the south side has three basins with 13 jets. The fountains are electronically equipped to operate in four different modes, depending on the time of day and weather conditions, with basins dry, jets only, jets plus reflecting pools, or reflecting pools alone.

“The fountains originally were designed to be constructed of granite, but in the value engineering phase of this project, we were able to lower material costs significantly by proposing that the basins be constructed of exposed aggregate concrete with granite chips, which produced a very aesthetically pleasing outcome,” said McCarthy Project Director Lee Sudhoff. “Prior to constructing the fountains, we built a 40-foot by 40-foot mockup that allowed us to test the materials and perfect the design and mechanical aspects so there would be no glitches or delays during actual construction.”

Located to the north of the County Administration Center are two-and-a-half acres of specialty gardens, grouped into three distinct themes: the Grass Garden, the Mediterranean Garden and the Diversity Garden. The Grass and Mediterranean gardens display a wide variety of drought-tolerant, native and well-adapted species of plants and shrubs, while the Diversity Garden showcases cycads and other plant varieties that have a lush, tropical appeal yet are adaptable to San Diego’s arid climate and low- to moderate-use water requirements. Trees scattered throughout provide shade and give vertical contrast, while shrubs lend human scale.

Woven throughout the specialty gardens are pathways with benches where visitors can meander and pause to take in the beauty of the gardens as well as views toward the bay, afforded by the higher elevation of the garden area. A platform provides the ideal setting for weddings and other private ceremonies.

An intricate, high-tech subsurface drip irrigation and drainage system built below the gardens contains rain sensors and provides a means for utilizing rain runoff. The system will help maintain ideal soil conditions for all of the gardens year around.

Located south of the County Administration Center is the ocean-themed, one-plus-acre children’s play area, featuring swirling concrete pathways; two large grass knolls; and three, large mounds of vivid-blue, rubberized, resilient surfacing and a wide assortment of unique playground equipment for children of all ages. Decomposed granite was used to surface the remainder of the pathways. Trees surround the playground’s perimeter and seating areas.

"We have reclaimed the waterfront," said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. "It was a parking space; now it's a people space."

Originally built in 1938, the historic San Diego County Administration Center has stood on the San Diego bay front, welcoming residents and visitors alike and symbolizing the ideals of public service, as summed up by the motto, “The noblest motive is the public good.” The McCarthy design-build team was hired to navigate any issues related to the County Administration Center’s historical building status and ensure consistency of integration and integrity.

As part of this project, the west side of the building was given all new terracing, railings, retaining walls, landscape and exposed aggregate concrete where the original aggregate concrete had to be torn up to accommodate installation of the fountain chiller lines, which run the entire length of the site from north to south. The east side of the building was also given new ADA ramps, steel railings and landscaping.

McCarthy also relocated the delicate, 10-foot-long, etched glass San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Memorial from the south side of the building to the west side. New outdoor public restrooms are designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification. Several massive groves of palm trees were dug up, boxed in their entirety, and moved with giant cranes to different locations on the open greens.

Site work also included all related underground building systems, which entailed decommissioning the existing energy plant and building a new 6,400-square-foot, underground energy plant to the north of the County Administration Center, which contains all mechanical systems to run the building and fountain systems. Building Information Modeling (BIM) was used to navigate this portion of the work.

According to Sudhoff, one challenging aspect of the job was the underground parking structure, built below the water table. The original plan was to set up a perimeter dewatering system that would allow for the preconstruction excavation. That system was supposed to help pump down groundwater, which could be expected with the site being so close to the waterfront, until the excavation reached the bottom of the hole and the dig area was dry.

“While that had been the theory, it wasn’t what we encountered,” said Sudhoff. “We got down to the bottom and it was still full of water. As it turned out, there was a layer of clay that had gone unnoticed in soil reports, which decreased the amount of water being pumped out. The addition of a perimeter drainage system helped us to get the hole dried out and proceed with on-time delivery of the parking structure last September.”

Another challenge of the project was that it had to be tackled in four separate phases due to site logistics and the need to move different components from one area to another. “What this came down to is we had to approach this park project as if it were four separate projects,” stated Sudhoff. Hargreaves Associates prepared the master plan and bridging documents for the new County of San Diego Administration Center Waterfront Park, eliciting public input during the early phases of design. Other consultants included Jessen-Wright as the structural engineer, Nasland as the civil engineer, Sparling as the electrical engineer, MA Engineers as the mechanical engineer, and G Force as the environmental engineer.

Subcontractors involved in the project included ValleyCrest Landscape Companies, Outside the Lines, Marne Construction, Concrete Contractors Interstate, Bergelectric, University Mechanical, Paul Hansen Equipment, and Sierra Pacific.

About McCarthy

Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., is the country’s 9th largest domestic general contractor (Engineering News-Record, May 2014), the largest general contractor in California and second largest in San Diego (San Diego Business Journal, June 2013). The company is committed to the construction of high performance green buildings; progressive job site technology; and safer, faster and more cost-effective execution. In addition to San Diego, McCarthy has offices in Newport Beach, Sacramento and San Francisco, Calif.; Phoenix; Las Vegas; St. Louis; Dallas; Houston; Atlanta; Albuquerque; Kansas City; and Collinsville, Ill. McCarthy is 100 percent employee-owned. More information about the company is available online at