A brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord has backed out of a demolition project in downtown Olympia after South Sound labor unions raised concerns about the deal.
The 555th Engineer Brigade from JBLM started interior demolition of a city-owned building in December as part of a training exercise. The vacant building at 505 Fourth Ave. W. — formerly owned by the Thurston County Housing Authority — is on the isthmus between Capitol Lake and West Bay in downtown Olympia.
However, the brigade will not finish the job. Representatives from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 612 and the Laborers Union Local 252 complained that the project was depriving union members of work, said Jay Burney, assistant city manager.
In December, the brigade knocked down several interior walls and hauled away dumpsters filled with wood, scrap metal and drywall. Their work has prepared the building for exterior demolition this summer, Burney said.
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An adjacent city-owned building at 529 Fourth Ave. W. also will be torn down, and the city is seeking bids from private contractors to demolish both structures, Burney said.
“We are still on schedule to have both buildings down in the summer of 2015,” Burney said.
The brigade’s efforts were expected to save the city an undetermined amount of money by not paying a contractor for the work. The city is applying for federal grant money to fund the demolitions.
The project was a training opportunity that allowed the brigade to practice deconstruction. The military will build structures overseas, then destroy the buildings once their use is done.
“We certainly got good training out of it,” said Lt. Bryan Perrenod, public affairs officer for the brigade. “We really would have liked to have completed the project. It was a good experience.”
A representative from Laborers Union Local 252, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, confirmed that the unions objected to the demolition effort.
“That project should have been put out to bid,” he said. “It was taking the food right out of the mouths of the laborers that should have been doing the work.”
The two city-owned properties are across from Bayview Thriftway in the shadow of the nine-story Capitol Center Building, which is privately owned and is not slated for demolition.