With money in hand, plans being drawn for new park visitor center

With federal stimulus money in hand, the National Park Service is ready to turn the grounds of the former King Gillette Ranch into a public visitor center.

A coalition of park agencies acquired the 588-acre ranch at the southeast corner of Mulholland Highway and Malibu Canyon Road in 2005 for $35 million.

King C. Gillette, an American businessman known for his invention of the disposable razor, bought the property in 1926. Later owners included Bob Hope and Soka University of America.

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority now manages the property in cooperation with the National Park Service, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and California State Parks.

The new center will serve as an information hub for people who want to explore the mountains, said Lauren Newman, spokesperson for the National Park Service. The current National Park Service visitor center headquarters is on Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks.

“The new facility will meet the expectations of the public in a better way because it will be near trails and parks,” Newman said.

Earlier this year, the federal government allocated $8.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) funds to the National Park Service and its Santa Monica Mountains region.

The bulk of the money, $6.8 million, was awarded to Big-D Construction and affiliated AJC Architects to design and build the center. Both companies are based in Salt Lake City.

“They have done visitor centers across country, so their expertise is what won them the contract,” Newman said.

Design work will take place this winter, and construction should begin in spring 2011.

Improvements will include solar panels, a passive heating and cooling system, low-flow toilets and skylights to reduce the need for artificial lighting.

“The building will produce as much energy as it consumes throughout the course of the year,” Newman said.

The remaining $1.7 million will be awarded to another company later this year to construct exhibits at the new visitor center.

The interactive displays highlighting the science, nature and cultural resources in the Santa Monica Mountains will be entertaining for everyone, including families with young children, Newman said. The center should be complete by the end of 2012.

During a recent visit to Malibu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar pledged to support the activities and programs of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.

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