Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series examining the proposed Civic Center and Proposition #1, the $25 million capital bond measure to pay for it. Mountlake Terrace voters will find the bond issue on their Aug. 7 primary election ballot, arriving in mailboxes this week. You can read Part 1 here.
By Doug Petrowski
“This is a great time to build.”
It’s a mantra heard from Mt. Vernon to Shoreline to Renton to Tacoma; throughout the Puget Sound region, public and private entities are breaking ground on new construction projects, and beam proudly about the relatively low cost to build them.
It’s also one of the phrases heard over and over again from Mountlake Terrace city officials and supporters of a proposed new Civic Center for the southwest corner of 232nd Street Southwest and 58th Avenue West.
Mountlake Terrace voters will decide the fate of the project with Proposition 1 on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot. If passed, the capital bond issue will raise $25 million to be used to build a new city hall, new community/senior center, a remodeled and expanded police station, an outdoor space for events and new roof improvements for the library.
Many city officials believe a new civic center can be designed and built for less than $25 million in today’s economic climate. Comparing the tentative Civic Center plans in Mountlake Terrace with other projects now underway in the region, they might be correct.
Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon broke ground last month on a new 70,000 square-foot facility that will house 23 classrooms and labs, various registration and financial aid offices, and a student services center. The three-story building is expected to cost $21 million to build, with a final price tag after design fees, permitting fees, purchasing furnishings and sales tax set at $32 million. The $300- per-square-foot building cost is less than the Mountlake Terrace Civic Center estimate of approximately $310 per square-foot.
Skagit Valley College was looking to either remodel or replace its 53-year-old Charles Lewis Hall to handle its growing enrollment. “We determined it was a better investment to build a new building as opposed to renovating it,” said Mary Alice Grobins, Vice President of Administrative Services for SVC.
The build cost is even more impressive considering the generally more expensive elements to the project, such as incorporating “green” design and technology into the building. The facility is situated with an east-west footprint to maximize available nature lighting, it will retain and use rainwater to flush toilets, its roof will feature solar panels, gathering space and a garden area, and it will include electric car charging stations in its parking area, Grobins explained.
“This will change the face of the college and the feel of this campus,” she added.
The Renton School District also broke ground last month on a new facility. Construction of the district’s new 67,600-square-foot Early Childhood Learning Center is being budgeted at $18.6 million, approximately $275 per square-foot. The overall cost for the project is planned for $22 million.
Construction also began last month on a new Tacoma Elks Club Lodge next to their present facility at the Allenmore Golf Club. The new 39,000-square-foot building will feature a large hall with elevated stage, a public restaurant and pro golf shop, offices, and an athletic facility with locker rooms, sauna and showers. Building costs are projected to be $6.9 million, about $260 per square-foot, with a total project cost set at $8 million.
In Shoreline, privately-run Kings School broke ground last month on a new Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics building on the CRISTA Ministries Campus. The 26,500-square-foot STEM Center is being estimated to cost $6.7 million, about $253 per square-foot, with an overall price tag of $11 million for the project.
The Tacoma Elks Club and Kings School are privately-owned and don’t have some of the mandates that accompany public facility projects. For example, the Mountlake Terrace Civic Center project, if built, will have to include funding for art in or around the facility, as required by city code. Art funding for the Civic Center is budgeted at approximately $213,000.
Also, on public projects, contractors have to pay laborers “locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits,” according to the federal Davis-Bacon and Related Act. The requirement prevents contractors from under-bidding competitors by paying their workers at below-standard wages. “The Davis-Bacon Act actually adds 20 to 30, even 40 percent to a project that the private sector can do,” Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield explained.
Finally, some private projects are completed by a construction firm that will both design and build it, allowing the owner to skip the process of having contractors bid to complete the project. The new Tacoma Elks Club Lodge is a design-build project, much to the pleasure of club leadership.
“The difference between a design-build project versus hiring a separate architect to design it then a builder to build it, you save a boatload of money,” said club Chief Operating Officer Ron Forest.
Caulfield insists the advantages of a design-build project versus the more traditional design-bid-build process are negligible during today’s economic climate. Contractors are very competitive with their bids right now because they need the work, Caulfield said.
Analysis of building costs may be a moot point if Mountlake Terrace voters turn down Proposition 1. If that happens, the city would continue to rent space for its city hall offices in the short run and study options for the long run. Is renting space a feasible option? What are the cost differentials in renting space for city hall versus building a new civic center? In the next report, we will look at the figures and hear from both sides of the debate.