OLYMPIA - After more than two decades of talk, several proposed locations and an arson, Olympia's new $35.6 million City Hall is ready for its public debut.
The four-story, 89,000-square-foot building at 601 Fourth Ave. E. opens to the public at 8 a.m. Monday, nearly 45 years to the day after the old City Hall opened.
The new building consolidates departments from eight buildings, five of which the city leases. It injects about 240 employees into the heart of downtown.
“It allows us to serve people much more efficiently and effectively than we have in the past,” said Jay Burney, interim assistant city manager for special projects.
For city leaders, it means reducing expenses by ending leases and consolidating equipment. For city employees, it means more-efficient operations, the ability to gather in the same building rather than meet in different locations to conduct business. For customers, it means one-stop shopping for city services.
“They’re going to be blown away when they see what they have,” said Keith Stahley, director of Community Planning and Development. “It’s going to be a really nice space for both employees and the public.”
EASIER FOR VISITORS
Visitors will enter the first-floor lobby and find a three-person customer service desk where representatives will help customers find the services they need.
Paying parking tickets or utility bills, filing a development plan or raising a public works issue used to mean a trip to a different building. No more. Two computer kiosks near the service counter allow customers to access services online if representatives are busy.
“Our level of customer service we’re going to provide is just a lot superior to what we’re accustomed to,” said Brian Wilson, a member of the customer service team at the new building.
People submitting plans, applying for permits and using other Planning Department services will be sent up a staircase to the second-floor reception area for the city’s Planning Department. That once meant a trip to the Smith Building, a block’s walk from the old City Hall at 900 Plum St. S.E.
The first floor also boasts a bigger council chambers with more than 100 seats and room to spill out into the lobby if a large crowd requires it. Two closed-circuit televisions in the lobby also will show the meeting.
The Police Department occupies the east end of the first floor, with its own lobby for visitor access.
Visitors who are going elsewhere in the building will need an employee to escort them; the hallways and elevators require a key card for access. The interior of the building is crammed with 226 cubicles, 34 offices and 24 conference rooms.
The city will save $500,000 a year by eliminating leases at five buildings, Burney said. It will apply that to pay off the $35.6 million loan the city used for the building. Nearly $20,000 will be saved annually by reducing the number of print devices from 96 to 37, Burney said.
One thing employees will gain from consolidating into one building is time, he said.
“Walking back and forth from building to building to have meetings is a very inefficient way to do things,” he said. “Now they’re literally across the hall or up and down a floor, so they’re able to get where they need to go much, much faster and easier.”
Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said the old City Hall is disjointed, not built for expansion. It’s so crowded that the department’s detectives have been in a separate building from the command staff and patrol.
“This new building presents so many opportunities,” he said. “We actually have a training room, so we’re not driving out to the range to sit in a room. We can all be here.”
Burney said the building was designed with 10 percent room to grow. But it will have more capacity because the city has laid off 9 percent of employees over the last few years as a result of the recession.
All these efficiencies come at a cost – in the neighborhood of $50 million, Burney said. Olympia agreed to pay $35.6 million to the project team, Hoffman Construction of Seattle and Belay Architecture of Tacoma. The final figure for construction costs is not expected to be known for several months, Burney said. According to the developers’ contract, any savings will be split, with 60 percent going to the contractors and 40 percent to the city.
In addition to construction costs, the city paid $3.4 million for the land and $7 million to clean it up. It got $3.7 million of that back from a state Department of Ecology rebate. Then there are moving and miscellaneous costs.
An arson last July did $2.3 million in damage and delayed the project by two months, but that cost is covered by insurance. Transient sex offender Joshua A. Stacy, 22, was sentenced to eight years and four months in jail for the crime.
The city has budgeted $200,000 to renovate the old City Hall into a judicial center. Court services and probation services will move there, joining city prosecutors and the city jail. Olympia Municipal Court will continue to meet in the old council chambers.
Some departments will remain in place. The Parks Department will stay at The Olympia Center on Columbia Street, maintenance crews will stay on Eastside Street, and firefighters will be at their usual stations.
The new City Hall also comes without a standard feature at other government buildings: customer parking. There is no dedicated parking lot for customers or city employees, except for police vehicles.
There are 39 street spaces for customers in the block around City Hall, four of which are handicapped-accessible. City employees also may park there, though they’re discouraged from staying too long.
An additional 82 spots are available for employees for $45 a month, little more than a block away on Fourth Avenue at the artesian well. Other private parking lots are available to employees, as well as street spaces throughout downtown. Employees can also park for free at the old City Hall and walk five blocks to their new home.
The city also encourages employees to consider taking the bus or biking to work. There’s indoor parking for more than 20 bikes, Burney said, plus showers.
END OF A LONG ROAD
City officials had considered building a new City Hall for more than two decades. In the past 10 years, the council considered multiple sites downtown, including Port of Olympia property on East Bay. The City Council even settled on building on East Bay in 2007. But there were uncertainties about the cost and delays of cleanup, and the city’s developer pulled out of the project.
It also considered building at the Plum Street site.
Then the longtime Safeway grocery closed in 2007, and city leaders jumped at the rare opportunity to acquire a full city block.
The bottom line: city leaders wanted to build downtown to revitalize the area.
“It’s a wonderful addition to downtown,” Councilman Stephen Buxbaum said Tuesday.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869; email@example.com