City Hall recommendation now in hands of Mountlake Terrace City Council

City Hall Advisory Committee Chair Linda Rogers presents to the council while Vice Chair H. Stan Lake, left, and Community Relations Director Virginia Olsen look on.

After months of study and discussion, the Mountlake Terrace City Hall Advisory Committee on June 5 officially delivered its recommendation to the City Council for a new $11.6 million City Hall building.

Now it’s up to councilmembers to decide whether to accept the advisory committee’s recommendation, or make adjustments to before it appears before voters on the November 2017 general election ballot. The council will have the topic on its agenda for discussion throughout the month of June and into July, said City Manager Scott Hugill.

City Hall Advisory Chair Linda Rogers noted in her council presentation that the while the committee worked with the city and architect on conceptual designs, including a preliminary layout, for the new City Hall, design work would occur following voter approval of funding.

The main bone of contention continues to be whether to focus the November measure solely on a request for a new city hall at $11.6 million or to also include expansion of the city’s police department, which would cost an additional $1.8 million. The committee recommendation as presented June 5 would delay the vote on an expanded police station until February, based on a desire to keep the costs as low possible to appeal to voters.

Committee leadership noted the group was split on that idea — voting 5-4 to approve the city hall-only recommendation — and Vice Chair H. Stan Lake even submitted to councilmembers what he described as his “dissenting opinion” on the matter.

Snohomish County’s deadline for submitting a November ballot measure is Aug. 1. As a result, the council would need to take action by its July 17 meeting to meet that timeline, unless  a special meeting is called, said Virginia Olsen, the City’s Community Relations Director.

The City of Mountlake Terrace has been renting its City Hall space at the Redstone building off 220th Street Southwest for years — at a cost of $40,000 per month — following a roof collapse in 2008 that made the old City Hall unsafe for employees. Three previous ballot measures — one for $37.5 million in 2010 and two more for $25 million in 2012 and 2013 —  failed to reach the required 60 percent to pass a capital bond measure.

“Rent has put a substantial burden on the city,” Rogers said. In 2016, voters approved a levy lid lift to temporarily fund rent at Interim City Hall for four years while a new City Hall is planned and built, assuming voters approve it.

Prior to the meeting, advisory committee members and citizens gathered for an open house, including coffee and cake. Councilmember Rick Ryan, center, speaks with committee members, from left, H. Stan Lake, Dustin DeKoekkoek and Maggie Hyneman.

Advisory Committee Vice Chair Lake said that throughout committee discussions, members focused on the group’s mission created early in the process: “To develop an affordable concept design and cost estimate in support of new city hall at the Civic Center.”

One of the discussion points the group kept coming back to, Lake said, was whether the expansion of the police department was part of the mission to build a new city hall.

Another issue that the group spent a lot of time on was, “how frugal is frugal?” Lake said. “How much do we have to spend in order to spend enough and how much is too much.”

To review the space needs, committee members toured the police station and city hall in February and March, and Rogers and Lake also took a separate tour of the operations facility for public works and parks to look at options for additional space needs that could be accommodated there. City staff worked with consultant Rex Bond of ARC Architects and subcontractor Tom Beckwith to conduct a space needs assessment, which showed a need of 19,762 square feet for new space plus 3,102 square feet for the police department, Rogers said.

Lake pointed out in his “dissenting opinion” that when it comes to space needs, he believes the final committee recommendation missed the mark. Currently, the city allocates 300 rentable square feet (RSF) per employee and that number is set to expand under the advisory committee’s City Hall proposal, he said. However, worldwide, 84 percent of all office space “is based on less than 300 RSF per employee and 57 percent of all offices purchase less than 225 RSF,” Lake wrote.

Lake said he believes that city workers could manage with less space — he suggests 250 RSF —  and that reducing the City Hall square footage could reduce costs by 10 percent — thus allowing both the City Hall and police proposals to appear on the November ballot at a cost voters would approve.

“In this whole process, nothing I have seen justifies the need for our city hall employees such excessive amounts of space compared to the typical office worker,” Lake said.

After the presentation, councilmembers thanked the advisory committee members for their diligent work, which included numerous meetings including several across the city aimed at gathering community input.

Councilmembers also asked several questions related to the how the space requirements were determined and possible ways to address citizen concerns about making sure the police department was accommodated.

At the end of the meeting, Councilmember Seaun Richards recommended that the council place both the City Hall and the police department proposals on the ballot with the $13.4 million price tag. “It would cost the average homeowner about $83 (per year) and if you minus the $46 going towards the rent (for the current city hall), the difference is only about $37,” Richards said.

In 2021, property taxes will drop by 19 cents, as part of the Levy Lid Lift that was approved last year will expire. The measure only included money for rent at Redstone for the first four years.

— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel

  1. As a member of the Mountlake Terrace City Hall Advisory Committee, let me correct the record: it is a horrific FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY thousand per year rent cost at the Redstone Building per City staff.

    1. Thanks for catching that typo. It was supposed to be $40,000 per month and it’s been fixed.

  2. Kudos to MLTNEWS for reporting not only on what the Citizen Committee accomplished, which is no small achievement, but also clarifying so well what they didn’t even address. That is the question of the space needs in the office space portion of the new city hall. Despite numerous requests from Mr. Lake and Mr. Barnes, the Committee majority repeatedly refused to address that issue, most particularly at their final meeting.

    Space planning in the private and public sectors has been driven by the pressures of cost containment for well over a decade, which is why the footprint per employee has decreased so greatly. Ignoring that dynamic in their output to the council doesn’t fulfill one of their promises – that the “project would be shaped by the community.”

    The size of the building responded to only one input, staff’s request. That is not how it works, even got governments, outside the confines of city hall. Since 2009, space planning at both the State and Federal levels has proven amenable to cost containment. The Federal Govt. average is now 170 square feet per employee. Yet the office portion request for our city hall has actually increased in the same period.

    With so many taxpayers working everyday in offices, it shouldn’t it be a surprise when they expect their tax dollars to be spent frugally just like their employers do.

  3. Now that the City Hall Advisory Committee has made its recommendation to the City, I think that many of us would just like to thank all its members for the enormous amount of time and effort that they each have given to the community. It took courage for these neighbors of ours to take up the ongoing issue of a new City Hall, which has been the “third rail” of Mountlake Terrace politics for far too long. They have managed to bring in a proposal at a cost that is finally in line with what the community wants and that will bring the City Hall back to the center of our community and end the staggering rent payments that are crippling our local government’s ability to respond to our other needs. Job well done, and thanks.

  4. I have fought for nearly 9 years to make the cost of a new city hall rational to the taxpayers who foot the bill. If we are going to finally get this done to the community’s satisfaction, let’s do it right.

    Paying rent in the first place was lunacy, but the “staggering rent payments” amount to a cost to each household of $0.19/$1,000 of assessed valuation. The levy lid lift means that rent no longer cripples our city’s ability to respond to other needs. Rent now has a dedicated funding source. Moreover, if that amount is “staggering”, what is $0.295/$1,000? The combined burden of the two ballot measures is 50% more.

    Again, kudos to the Committee for their work. They eliminated many unnecessary features. They also separated out the police portion and were able to reduce the police ask from $3.1 million to $1.8 million. They repeatedly refused, however, to address the amount of space required for city staff. As Stan Lake put it, “In this whole process, nothing I have seen justifies the need for our city hall employees such excessive amounts of space compared to the typical office worker.”

    What Mr. Lake is proposing is a reasonable market-based compromise for the City Hall portion of the project. If the council wants a win-win one-ballot measure solution from all the Committee’s efforts, why not pursue some middle ground?

    1. See below and documents linked.

      “The assigned employee workspaces make up about 4,500 square feet of the recommended City Hall. This equates to an average assigned workspace of about 95 square feet for each employee.

      The following makes up the difference between the space allocated for employee assigned workspace and the 19,210 identified for all of City Hall:

      • Council Chambers;
      • lobby;
      • hallways;
      • stairwells;
      • elevator;
      • walls;
      • meeting rooms;
      • copy/mail room;
      • restrooms/locker rooms;
      • mud room;
      • lunch room;
      • space for eight additional future employees;
      • space for filing cabinets, records, IT servers and other storage;
      • mechanical/electrical areas.

      Throughout the process of identifying space needs for city hall during the 2017 process, staff applied lessons from Interim City Hall to pare down what was needed where possible. The purpose of reducing assigned workspaces was to meet the Committee’s goal of keeping the cost and footprint as low as possible while still accommodating future growth. For example, the city manager’s office in Interim City Hall is approximately 300 square feet; in the recommended city hall, the office is 160 square feet. The same is true of department directors’ offices, which have been reduced in size from Interim City Hall to the recommended city hall.

      To put this in perspective, the work done by the Civic Facilities Task Force and Miller Hull Architects in 2008 identified a city hall needing 26,124 square feet. (This is a combination of area identified for the City Council, City Manager, Administrative Services, Community & Economic Development, Engineering, and associated shared areas such as hallways, meeting rooms and restrooms, etc.) Based on what we have learned in terms of space needs at Interim City Hall, and the CHAC’s focus on space efficiency and cost, the space has been reduced to 19,210.”

      ARC Space Allocation for City Hall
      Space allocation

  5. I can’t believe that neither Dustin nor the city manager actually understand the basic math underlying space allocations in office buildings. Of course, no one actually works in the bathrooms, the hallways, the elevators, the stairwells or the mechanical rooms. That doesn’t mean those spaces are not included in a typical SF per employee tabulation. With all of those spaces allocated, the typical office worker has seen their “space allocation” decreased from over 300 SF to under 200 SF over the last decade. Never addressed by the Committee, that dynamic continues to be denied even though Mr. Lake’s compromise suggestion doesn’t go nearly far enough.

    Moreover, the relevant comparison for the CHAC’s work is not the 2008 report mentioned, but the Miller Hull produced budget from October, 2011, the basis for both $25 million measures. The Civic Center, including a 3,653 SF police component and City Hall, was to have been 23,524 SF. Look it up! That leaves 19,871 SF for City Hall, a figure virtually unchanged in the initial 19,762 SF City Hall proposal of this go round.

    I’m not sure where they added back the space supposedly given up by the city manager and all of the Directors, but they are clearly there or else the square footage difference would not have begun in January as a mere 109 SF. The decrease from just his and the directors’ offices would have totaled many times that 109 SF. His apparent generosity is anything but.

  6. My response…. in 50 years offices will be virtual…. use City Chambers for meetings & Public use meetings.. thus a dual space…. the records will all be in the cloud.. and digitization will be used for all archival records, meeting minutes, utility Bills, etc… get rid of the wasted space and bring the police department up to code.

  7. Leonard French didn’t cite where he got his numbers*, but I think he is confusing utilizable square feet (workstations and furniture) with the rentable square feet (what Stan Lake is looking at). The 170SF-like numbers are the former, and are closer to what Dustin is calculating. Assuming his math is correct, we are quite tight on office space.

    I haven’t heard a good reason why the dissenting opinion thinks it is appropriate to compare an average of global office space area to a city hall. A city hall has an office component, but also has a lot of other types of spaces that are important to public function (like council chambers and associated support spaces) that aren’t normally found in the average office.

    It’s like walking into a store needing a pair of size 13 waders but the salesman tells you no, he sees no reason why you’d need those, the global average man buys size 9 running shoes. If an architect gave that recommendation at the end of this process, we would need to find a new architect, because we need to go through a study of our actual needs before deciding how much to build. This is the process the architect went through, as I understand it.

    Back to Dustin’s calculation – this seems tight already for office space. They did have a phase of value engineering, and I don’t know why we are trying to squeeze blood from a turnip at this point in design. We’re not picking out the shade of rose-covered marble for the turrets – we are trying to adequately size a public facility, and I think we should err on the side of caution. Worst case scenario with overshooting, we accidentally make the building too big, pay a little extra on a low-interest-rate bond for thirty years, and have some extra space for other uses or future growth. Worst case scenario for making the building too small, we don’t have enough space and, come 2023, I am paying my water bill at the rented Stan Lake Memorial City Hall Annex, funded by a levy that continues to rise with rent, forever.

    *You didn’t say where you got that number, but a quick google search points to the first link at the end of this post. The article cites utilization; the many ways that square footage can be calculated in these statistics can be found in the second link, plus a more detailed survey of different types of office. There are several precisely defined ways square footage is calculated in these statistics (including an ANSI standard!) – please familiarize yourself with them when looking at single-number statistics like this.

  8. Not to get too far off in the weeds, but the 2012 Benchmark report cited is 5 years out of date and it’s figures are inaccurately described. Even when it was timely, it measured the relevant Space Utilization Rate in Usable Square Feet averaging about 200 SF per employee (See pg 6 chart). Usable SF includes not just employee workspace, but also “shared facilities that might not be directly within the immediate office area.”

    I don’t have to Google search to understand how those numbers work. They are common knowledge in the industry as are the long-existing downward trends in space utilization. As the 2017 Jones,Lang LaSalle (JLL) report footnoted in Mr. Lake’s minority report shows, SF per employee is down from 300 SF per employee in 2009 to beneath 200 SF today, pretty much in line with the trends in the Benchmark report.

    As with Usable SF from Benchmark, that 200 SF figure includes not only employee workspace cited by the city manager, but also internal hallways, lunch rooms, conference and meeting rooms, and dedicated restrooms – “shared facilities” in Benchmark language. Had Dustin and the rest of the CHAC majority ever accepted Mr. Lake’s invitation to explore these contemporaneous industry standards, the Committee could have discussed the meaning of all these figures and surrogates would not be debating them online. City Council or the CHAC should review the JLL report; its only 8 pages. They don’t need to trust me about its meaning. Contact JLL; their number is on the sign outside city hall. They represent the building owners.

    In the meantime, since 2012 information is important, let’s go back to the City Council agenda from 1/12/12. At Agenda item 4, Civic Center Update, see Civic Center Project Cost Detail for both $25 million proposals. At page 2 is shown a Civic Center totaling 23,524 SF, of which 3,653 SF were for construction of a police component (John Caulfield response of 10/11/12) – not a remodel. That leaves 19,871 for the city hall portion. The current 19,210 SF city hall proposal purports to be a 26% reduction. Do the math. Its a 3% reduction – hardly “blood from a turnip” in a world that has seen as much as a 50% reduction in expectations over the last decade.

    The real issue is that neither city staff nor the CHAC majority want City Hall to be affected by the same cost-conscious trends impacting other office workers (and our police department as their diminished space request demonstrates.) If you actually look at his analysis, Mr. Lake isn’t suggesting staff downsize anywhere close to the current industry averages. And his numbers overtly consider the public spaces such as council chambers inherent to a city hall. Again, read Mr. Lake’s brief report. What he is saying is that if city staff were at all responsive to the world around them, this whole matter could be accomplished with one ballot measure – one that might succeed. City Hall won’t be accidentally too small, but it will eventually be intentionally smaller because taxpayers deserve no less consideration than other informed office space buyers.

    1. I’ve seen the opinion about reducing costs further in the meeting minutes, memos, and on this news website, but I’m having trouble finding the full eight-page report you are referring to in any of the CHAC pages, council meeting minutes, or searches of the city website. I assume it’s public record and I’d like to read it to have the full story – do you happen to have a link? (Thanks in advance!)

        1. Thanks, Teresa! It looks like this was Stan Lake’s own opinion submitted to the council as a citizen, and not an actual document from the CHAC. (I also note an earlier story reported that at least one of the three other dissenting opinions thought the size and budget was reasonable, and objected only to separating out the police station – there is some variety in the division.)

          I’m a bit late in my response, but also wanted to note that it’s pretty awesome that I asked a question one night on the comments section of a website (with no verification that I am even a real person!) and got the exact information I was looking for the very next morning from you and the city. Keep up the good work!

  9. THX, Teresa.

    Not finding the 8-pager from JLL or any other third-party sources such as the Benchmark report in the minutes from CHAC or council kind of makes my point. So too does their joint failure to independently corroborate what staff is telling them about the difference between the size of this city hall and the one from 2012/13. All of this is easily researched.

    The point is that, at least so far, neither the CHAC nor the council have officially considered easily accessible information about space sizes for office buildings. City hall is an office building with public spaces.

    Digesting and then accepting staff’s space size request without exploring further context is not equal to the due diligence which CHAC applied to the many other challenges they faced.

  10. I don’t want to get into the weeds myself here, but city halls are different in form and function from general office space, Len. While any office will have hallways and lobbies, they don’t have Council chambers or (usually) large customer service waiting areas. Also the trends that have reduced office space utilization like hoteling and mobile workers spending most of their time in the field or Starbucks meeting clients are not relevant to a city hall. City staff are not going to conduct official business at Starbucks. I would tend to rely on the expertise of the architects and their preliminary space planning than global office space trends.

    But whatever the merits of the argument, at this point the proposal seems pretty baked. Is it acceptable if not ideal in your view? Or will you oppose this proposal too? What is the outline of the proposal that you would accept, or is the status quo acceptable to you?

  11. Simple solution to this argument seems to be to look at a dozen other city halls of communities that are close to the size of Mountlake Terrace. See what their foot per employee ratio is (using same measurement formulas) and how it compares to this proposal.

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