Wednesday, March 14, 2012

School Building Study Session: March 5, 2012

The study session began at 6:05 pm. The mayor announced that Al Olson and his team would present their findings for 30 minutes (following the agenda their team had provided for the meeting), and then the public would be allowed to comment. Councilmember Hunt pointed out that the public is usually not allowed to speak at study sessions. They should only be allowed to comment after the council had asked their questions if there was time. Councilmember Hardin stated there would be at least one more study session where the public would be allowed to give input.

Mr. Olson then elaborated again on why he felt the town should sell the school building (this was his third presentation on the issue). He said the mayor had asked him to determine the highest and best use for the building, so he gathered the best of the best for the analysis. The team has not charged any money for their work (although Mr. Olson let them know the property may be for sale). He noted he did not have a formal relationship with team members, although he had worked with each of them in the past.

Olson then outlined in detail the qualifications of the team. He noted there is an emotional connection to the building for town residents, but the team operated without emotion – on the facts only. They first evaluated the costs to renovate the building.

Olson was struggling to read his notes without his glasses at this point, so Councilmember Hunt (his domestic partner) loaned her glasses to him. Olson then proceeded with his speech, noting the cost to fully renovate exceeded the current value of the school and would be more expensive than new construction. Keeping the school also incurs additional repair and maintenance costs. The town would have to meet current energy efficiency codes. Managing a rental property would be a hassle. If the public safety services are located in the building, the construction must be at 150% of safety codes. The building must meet seismic codes.

Olson said the team explored 4 or 5 alternatives and stressed again that not paving the parking lots right now was another way to save money (since a developer would likely take them out). He felt the town would benefit from selling now by generating cash, eliminating liabilities and the on-going maintenance costs.  Selling now provides money to the town to focus on future plans.

Dan Booth of HDL Engineering then discussed their findings about the structural integrity of the building. They were hired by Asarco in 1996 or so when Asarco did a major upgrade on the building. He confirmed that no seismic upgrades had been done at that time. Instead, the $690,000 remodel had focused on installing features that would provide basic life-safety, such as steel beams around the exterior walls to hold them in place during an earthquake. This would allow people to escape the building, but was not designed to preserve the walls intact.

Booth spent a lot of time outlining problems with the building, such as the unreinforced masonry of the exterior walls, which are load bearing. He noted the walls are not tied together well. He reiterated that any change of use of the building (such as using it for public safety offices) would mean it had to be brought up to current code.

Hunt asked for a guess on the cost for a seismic upgrade ($50 per square foot – about $1 million without any refinishing work). Booth also stated the town should save the money from the parking lot repairs. Hardin asked if Booth noted any damage from previous earthquakes that had occurred during the life of the building. Booth had not, but felt any damage could have been repaired and not noticeable when he did his inspection.

Jim Newman, project manager for Rushforth Construction, then outlined the projects he had worked on in the past. He reiterated the arguments against saving the school that Olson and Booth had presented. He noted that with an old building like the school, the budget needed to be 20-25% higher for the unknowns that might be discovered. He felt the best use of the property was to demolish the building and start new. Hunt estimated it would be a 24 month process to rebuild, but Newman thought it would be more like 10 months. Newman estimated the cost to renovate with full seismic upgrades at about $135 per square foot, whereas new construction is about $110 per square foot.

Dave Freeman from SFA Architects then presented a review he had performed of the town's comprehensive plan and how a feasibility study such as they are proposing would help the town plan for its future. 

Councilmember Hunt disclosed that she is domestic partners with Al Olson. She stated she had not been allowed to ask questions or discuss this proposal with the team when they had met in her house. She happened to see one of their worksheets during one of the meetings and confirmed that their first goal had been to keep the building if possible. She felt the town could require that any new building to preserve some of the iconic pieces of the building and they could ask the developer to design the new building with some of the same feel.

Councilmember Judd asked if any grants were available. No one knew of any. Mayor Hopkins asked the councilmembers to email any further questions to the town clerk and they would be passed to the team. He stated this decision would be a long process that included a series of meetings. He thought there might be some funding available through the USDA (the source of the loan for the sewer project). The meeting adjourned at 6:59 pm. There was not any time for public comment.


Jim said...

Parking lots have not been cleaned up to EPA or State of WA standards for arsenic or other metals.
EPA if still applicable is 200 PPM arsenic State of WA 20 PPM. Not sure on lead.
Requirements probably similar to Point Ruston.

Ruston Home said...

Actually the lots were tested and remediated by EPA last year, so they now meet the same federal standards as the rest of the neighborhood.

Jim said...

One lot under asphalt. Needs clean up.

Ruston Home said...

The lots were tested by removing chunks of asphalt to take the sample and then replacing the asphalt. The asphalt is broken up enough that it was not a problem. So all the parking areas were sampled and meet the same criteria as the rest of the neighborhood. The results were similar to what has been found under roads in the area that are tested for the sewer project, no remediation required under the federal program.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the contractors helping with the cost estimates are definitely pushing to demo the school, it does not surprise me when asked about grant money nothing has been researched, the mayor seems to like condo's, maybe given the chance he would level Ruston and build all condo's.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the plan in the beginning of the 'Ruston Large and Very Tall Building Boom' ; Condo build / Bennett Street, requests for very, very tall builds on Pearl st and requests to make 51st all commercial and very tall. Is that still the plan?