News: San Francisco Chronicle

By 2021, one of the most visible piers on San Francisco’s Embarcadero could be a streamlined fire station clad in white metal panels and perched atop a permanently docked barge.

First, though, the team officially selected last week by the city’s Department of Public Works to construct the $30 million facility just south of busy Rincon Park at Pier 22½ will need to run its conceptual plans by a whopping 17 city, state and federal agencies — not because of the unusual concept, but because that’s how things are done in the Bay Area.

“There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny in how this relates to its surroundings. We understand that,” says Alan Kawasaki of Oakland’s Shah Kawasaki Architects.

Kawasaki’s firm is part of the design-build team that would replace San Francisco’s current fireboat pier, bare except for a wooden shed from 1987 that lacks living quarters, adequate storage space and just about everything else. The team, led by Swinerton Builders and Power marine engineering, would also restore the landmarked 1915 fire station that’s nestled against the Embarcadero, a white stucco box with a red terra-cotta tiled roof where firefighters now sleep in cramped quarters above the fire truck.

It’s a fascinating project in large part because of the city’s desire to go with a floating structure, rather than a conventional pier — an approach prompted by concerns about the likelihood of sea-level change.

By 2070, for instance, the city’s accepted projections are that the average high tide here will climb roughly 18 inches. Add heavy storms and high winds and we could see waves surging nearly 4 feet above the level of the current pier.

And every scientifically accepted projection has those levels continuing to climb, decade after decade.

“Looking at what we’re faced with … this feels like the right approach,” says Mohammed Nuru, director of the city’s Department of Public Works. “Sea-level rise is a real issue for the city. I strongly believe doing a barge anchored to piers will accommodate that.”