Op-Ed

Voters should reject Pierce County’s flawed building plan

Kit Burns
Kit Burns

On Referendum 2015-1, vote "yes” to reject Pierce County bad planning.

The idea of a building that is too tall and large for the neighborhood, lacks sufficient parking for employees and visitors, and will be vacant evenings and weekends is enough reason to reject the county's proposed building.

Only a few weeks before the County Council voted on the project, a 622-stall, three-level garage was added. No drawings or specifications, not even a napkin sketch, were provided. A noncompetitive proposed amount of $17 million was instantly added to the budget without question. There is no way to verify if the cost is fair without drawings, specifications and cost estimates to review.

Planning for 1,300 employees and claiming room to add more, they are only providing 915 parking stalls for employees and visitors. Due to the shortage of parking, they propose to have employees pay for parking, add a costly circulator bus and have employees work at home. Parking on neighborhood streets is another option.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is vital to the health of our community; it needs our support in spirit and financially. Its current lease is in a county-owned building for $1 a year. In the proposed building, its new lease cost would be more than $31 per square foot per year, totaling more than $1.8 million a year.

The only way the health department can pay for such a dramatic increase in costs is to cut programs, eliminate staff, increase fees, revise allocation of grant funds and have a lease partially subsidized by other county departments.

Would you build a house and let the builder decide what roofing, carpeting and heating system you would have? How would you know the quality or even if the price was fair? Missing from the documents and mostly left up to the contractor to decide are other important quality and material requirements such as carpet, roofing, wall finishes, acoustical treatment, mechanical and electrical/technology systems.

Co-location for customer service and convenience already takes place at the county annex, a building the county owns. Co-location at the newly proposed site will only benefit a few people, about the number of people that would fit on a city bus.

The county recently claimed that it would "save an estimated $369 million." Save $12.3 million a year? That doesn't make sense; they need a new calculator. Reality is that added debt will be nearly $295 million for a building that is not a vital need. The cost of maintenance, which is not included in county presentations, will add another $98 million to the lifetime cost of the building. The savings they claim are nonexistent.

As an architect, I have taken the time to review the proposed General Services Building, including concepts, drawings and specification requirements. I found there are too many blanks in the proposal.

We need to start over with public involvement. That is why we should vote "yes" to reject this plan. There are better options.

Kit Burns is a retired architect who has been a project manager on several Northwest school projects, including Olympia and Kentlake high schools.

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