News

Cost of community center is climbing

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

A cafe and juice bar would be nice, but it looks like all Federal Way can afford is vending machines with the amount the City Council budgeted last December toward a new community center, senior center and pool.

Following a special meeting Tuesday evening to update council members on the progress of the project, city officials concluded $13 million won’t be enough to provide the first-class community center, senior center and pool they hope to build and residents apparently hope to see.

“(Consultants) were clear what could go into it at $13 million, and that might be disappointing,” Councilman Eric Faison said.

Council woman Linda Kochmar said she anticipated the city would end up spending closer to $15 million to build “a center our citizens will be happy to have in our community.”

“Do I think we can do it? Yeah, I think we can,” she said. “We just have to make sure we’re careful with our expenditures.”

Councilman Jack Dovey emphasized the facility is going to have to be great if the city wants people to use it.

“If you’re not going to do it first-class, don’t do it at all,” he said.

Principals and representatives from Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, Arai/Jackson Architects and Planners, GreenPlay LLC, Water Technology, Inc., and Berger/Abam Engineering, whom the city hired as consultants to guide the public-input process, briefed council members on an attractive list of potential amenities.

Council members ultimately will decide when the public process is done what services and programs the center will provide and how much the city will spend on it.

“We want to make sure the elements serve a majority, if not all, our citizens,” Councilwoman Mary Gates said. “We want to be well-balanced in serving a majority of our citizenry.”

Budgeting for the community center was a somewhat controversial issue during last year’s budget process. The council agreed then to raise the utility tax another 1 percent to the state-allowed 6 percent maximum to generate the revenue for a $10 million community center and senior center.

At the time, Kochmar opposed the allocation and tax increase, saying the city should first research the facts and figures and develop a closer estimate of actual cost.

“We should have had far more discussion,” Kochmar said last week from Spokane, where several council members were attending an Association of Washington Cities conference. Instead, the council set a dollar amount and now “we’re finding out it’s probably not enough,” she said.

The council upped the budget to $13 million to cover the cost of building a new pool after the city assumed operation of Kenneth Jones Pool from King County.

Residents who responded to the community center survey on the city’s Web site (more than 300 took it) and members of several focus groups have told consultants what they hope to see in a community center, senior center and pool.

Senior citizens have said they want a lounge where they could relax, visit or see seminars. And several people expressed an interest in a drop-in daycare service and a pre-school classroom outfitted with tiny tables and chairs and toys.

Teens want an area with foosball tables and arcade games, consultants said, and classrooms with computer access could allow for study time or community instruction. An arts and crafts room could have special equipment, like a pottery kiln.

Survey respondents and focus group members said the city is in dire need of meeting space for a variety of functions, so consultants included pricing for potential meeting and conference rooms on the list.

A gymnasium could provide a place for hoops or volleyball and an elevated jogging track could be built around it, the consultant said, which would satisfy a high interest in a community center that could meet fitness needs in the city.

Consultants added that a fitness room equipped with free weights and weight machines and a cardiovascular area also could satisfy the fitness need; a multipurpose room with a shock-absorbing wooden floor would suit dance and aerobics classes while one of the carpeted conference rooms would work for yoga or Pilates (a yoga-like exercise).

Consultants even included the cost of a rock-climbing wall, which several respondents expressed an interest in and which could provide a strong visual element to the building.

For the pool, consultants showed the council pictures of leisure pools that featured slides and sprays, explained the pros and cons of an eight-lane lap pool against a six-lane lap pool.

Flynn noted what he called a “sobering reality:” For $13 million, all the city could afford to include in the community center, senior center and pool are the senior lounge, a small community room, a small gymnasium, a six-lane lap pool, a small leisure pool and administrative and support areas.

Even though the city came in under budget on a new city hall, which was budgeted at $24 million but came in at $15 million thanks to a purchase of the Paragon building, funding for the senior center/community center/pool probably won’t come out of the money saved.

That’s because the $24 million assumed a financing strategy that included issuing bonds and anticipated leasing additional space. Funding for the community center project will come from its own financing strategy once council members get a better sense of how much it’s going to cost.

Gates pointed out there are several options for paying for the project, including grants.

For example, she said, local service organizations could work together to run the cafe and juice bar. “That’s the spirit community,” she said. “That is what community building is all about.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn; 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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