Politics & Government

Drawings unveiled for 9-story county administration building

The first renderings and model of a proposed Pierce County administration building show a nine-story structure of steel, glass and brick — twice as tall as originally estimated — located where the former Puget Sound Hospital now stands vacant.

The architect says the building is designed to be a catalyst for Pacific Avenue extending from downtown Tacoma. She says it would have sweeping views and would be “welcoming, approachable and very transparent.”

The building, which could be open two years from now, would hold 1,300 employees and fill 300,000 to 340,000 square feet.

The most recent estimates pegged the cost at nearly $90 million. Last year, the council approved an intrafund loan of up to $1 million for design.

After months of planning, the project is on a fast-track for approval. The County Council is scheduled to vote Jan. 27 whether to enter into a public-private lease agreement for the building. (The county would own the building at the end of the 20- to 30-year lease term.)

Council members got their first look at the drawings and a study model last week. They had questions about whether there’s enough room for parking on the 13-acre site and whether the building would be energy efficient. Officials assured them the answer was “Yes” to both.

Since Tacoma is historically known for its timber products, Councilwoman Joyce McDonald asked: “Where’s the wood?”

The model didn’t depict any wood. But architect Mindy Levine-Archer says it still could be incorporated in entry areas, in the lobby and in the new council chambers.

The design does call for the use of locally made brick, lending to what Deputy County Executive Kevin Phelps says “will be a great Tacoma building.”

COSTS STILL IN FLUX

Phelps said the project cost and an approximate lease rate should be determined in December. The lease rate will be adjusted up until the time of the vote, he said.

The county expects to be able to offset new lease costs with savings from consolidating and getting out of other lease space.

The original plan said the project would save county taxpayers $39.65 million over 25 years compared with the cost of a dispersed workforce. Nothing has changed that would significantly lower that savings, Phelps said.

“We’re going to be really close to breaking even the first day we occupy this building,” he said. “That’s real rare.”

The project would be built using a public private partnership that would make the developer, Wright Runstad & Company in Seattle, responsible for any cost overruns and penalties for any delays.

The lease would be fixed, based on a guaranteed maximum price. That amount would include costs for construction and financing, a developer fee and a maintenance fee for long-term upkeep of the building, Phelps said. The total cost would be spread out over the lease, he said.

The structure would be twice as tall as originally estimated in part because of the late addition of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which would take up nearly two floors. Ground floor retail space also has been added.

Last summer, the county estimated the addition of the health department would increase the cost of the building from $70.5 million to $87 million.

WORK WOULD START NEXT YEAR

Phelps said major construction could start in June.

The old hospital would be torn down in April. The county plans to try to salvage brick from the hospital’s iconic facade and eventually use it on some other project, Phelps said.

Preservationists have said the four-story, brick section of the hospital has historic value and the county should try to save the structure. The county has said it would cost more to renovate the vacant hospital building and bring it up to code than construct a new building.

The City of Tacoma has issued a permit for the building’s demolition.

The county administration building would open fully in November 2016. Employees would move in during eight weekends prior to that, Phelps said.

County Executive Pat McCarthy proposed the new building in summer 2013, after a study team recommended the project. On Tuesday, she praised its design.

The building would consolidate workers now based at the Pierce County Annex and those spread out in numerous leased buildings. The Annex needs $9 million in renovations for long-term use.

The county plans to eliminate at least 20 positions that would no longer be needed because of the consolidation of 18 county units into one facility, Phelps said.

Offices for the executive and County Council would move from the County-City Building two miles away.

The County-City Building would be converted into a regional justice center.

MINDFUL OF THE NEIGHBORS

Levine-Archer, of the firm NBBJ in Seattle, said the structure was designed to serve the public while keeping in mind the neighborhood of single-family residences next door.

The building would have views of Mount Rainier, Commencement Bay and “all the way to Gig Harbor,” she said.

Of the nine stories, eight would be above ground. There also would be a half-basement.

The steel structure would be made of glass and metal. At the base would be Pierce County-made “clinker” bricks — overcooked, dark-gray bricks known for their distinctive 1900-era style.

On the west side facing the neighborhood, a matching brick facade would extend up the building, softening the structure. Officials say it would help offset light spilling from the building into the neighborhood at night.

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