Olympia council votes to fix exterior of Washington Center

Washington Center project to cost $3.3 million; Oregon bidder chosen

Staff writerMarch 20, 2013 

The Olympia City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to spend $3.3 million to replace the leaky exterior of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts with brick and stone and a new marquee.

The council chose the lowest bidder for the job, Corp Inc. Construction of Salem, Ore., whose $3,317,281 bid was 4 percent higher than the city architect’s estimate.

All told, the council plans to spend about $4.6 million to renovate the building at 512 Washington St. SE, including design cost and replacing the roof and rooftop mechanical equipment. The council plans to borrow $4.2 million for the project.

Work is set to begin next month and mostly finish by mid-October, said Debbie Sullivan, director of technical services for the city.

The renovation will include a new brick exterior, front canopy with lighting, custom windows and stone cladding above the canopy, glass doors, a ticket window, poster display windows, another canopy over the adjacent alley and a permanent marquee sign.

“This is an exciting time for the Washington Center,” said George Le Masurier, chairman of the center’s board of directors, and also publisher of The Olympian. He noted that community groups are the biggest user of the center, and it drives a lot of business downtown.

“The Washington Center really is our community’s performing arts center.”

Olympia owns the building and is on the hook for major maintenance, while the nonprofit arts organization also known as The Washington Center runs the theater and is responsible for interior maintenance.

Replacing the exterior has been a top priority of the council since a 2008 report showed that leaky walls were threatening the structure of the building. An emergency repair that year shored up the building, but it was designed to last only five years.

In June, the Olympia City Council recommended the city go with the most generous of three plans to renovate the center. But it added a string: only if the city received an $816,000 state grant.

On Tuesday night, the council dropped the condition. The Department of Commerce’s Building for the Arts Program has recommended Olympia get the grant, but the award is dependent on what the Legislature does with the next state budget.

The council decided to go ahead after prompting from city staff who said the work needs to begin.

Councilwoman Karen Rogers was the lone exception, saying that the city should eschew the “Cadillac standard” and go with the scaled-down option, which would save about $200,000 by omitting the poster display windows, the windows above the front canopy, the alley canopy and the marquee sign. She voted against the project.

“I’ve gotten pressure from people in the community” questioning whether the city can afford the higher cost, she said.

But Councilman Jim Cooper said he supports the more generous option, and Councilwoman Jeannine Roe agreed, saying that $200,000 isn’t much in the grand scheme.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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