City, JBLM see win-win in isthmus work

Olympia needs buildings torn down; soldiers might do the work for free, call it training

ahobbs@theolympian.comJanuary 30, 2014 

Olympia is exploring a partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord to demolish abandoned buildings on the isthmus.

Although nothing has been approved, such an arrangement could benefit the military while saving Olympia taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The city owns two abandoned properties on the isthmus, a strip of land between Capitol Lake and West Bay. The long-term goal is to build a park on the downtown property.

However, the city must first tackle an asbestos-removal project before any demolition can take place. Olympia is pursuing a state grant to help with the estimated $550,000 total cost for asbestos removal.

The city still needs grant funding for demolition and soil cleanup at the site. No timetable has been established, and it is unknown how much money the city would save if the military agreed to demolish the buildings.

“I’m hopeful that within the next 30 days we’ll know more,” said Jay Burney, assistant city manager, on Tuesday. “We’re pretty excited about their willingness to have a discussion with us.”

Capt. Spencer Garrison of the 555th Engineers Brigade was encouraged by the Jan. 22 meeting with city officials. If the project comes to fruition, it would satisfy the brigade’s goals for training as well as community service.

The demolition would involve heavy machinery rather than explosives. The latter was ruled out because of noise and safety complications, Garrison said.

If approved, the demolitions would provide crucial training on equipment such as bulldozers. For an example of how this training pays off, Garrison cited a local battalion that spent nine months on a deconstruction project in Afghanistan last year. That demolition project coincided with base closures as part of an overall reduction in military presence, he said.

Bob Jones, who serves as a volunteer military liaison for Olympia, had reached out to JBLM about possibly using the isthmus properties for demolition training.

“It’s not every day you find a couple of buildings that are abandoned and have no historical significance,” said Jones, who retired from the Army in 1992 and sees an opportunity behind this potential partnership. “They’re not going to find a real building just anywhere that needs to be demolished.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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