Initial drawings of a potential community center were delivered to the Enumclaw City Council last week as the council held a lively discussion about the need for a full-sized gymnasium, the role of government vs. the free market, and the cost of the project on local taxpayers.
For those who need a refresher, the council has been talking about a community center for decades, but only started seriously considering the project last February.
At first, the council was looking only at tearing down and building a new senior center, but little by little, talks evolved into constructing a building to also house Arts Alive!, the Chamber of Commerce, and even Enumclaw’s Parks and Recreation Department.
The city council gave Cornerstone Architectural Group the go-ahead to start designing a building in August, and they delivered the goods on Oct. 14.
There’s still a lot of unknowns swirling around: the design isn’t totally finalized, the cost of the project isn’t set, and the city can only estimate how much a community center will impact local taxpayers, but a clearer picture of what could be built in the next year or two is quickly developing.
PRELIMINARY DESIGN FEATURES
There’s nothing too exciting to see right now, design-wise — just a few sheets of paper laying out some preliminary designs in 2-D, meaning the design could very well change.
At this time, the community center project will affect the entire plot of land between Cole St., Initial Ave., Railroad St., and Stevenson Ave.
In general, there are three quadrants to the project: an open-air plaza in the top right-hand corner of the lot (touching Cole Street); a community center in the bottom right hand corner of the lot (alongside Railroad Ave.); and two parking lots with 50 spaces taking up about half the available land (lined up by Stevenson Ave.).
On the first floor of the community center, entering in from the plaza, will be a large commons/dining area, with a kitchen and other facilities off to the side for the senior center.
Located on the other side of the commons is Arts Alive!’s retail area, as the nonprofit requested first-floor, front-facing space to encourage sales.
Below the commons is the senior center, complete with a game lounge, a health room, and several offices.
And finally, located on the other side of the Arts Alive! space is the full-sized gymnasium, which also includes an exercise area that connects to the senior center and changing rooms.
Connecting all these spaces will be hallways, accessible from the plaza or the parking lots.
The second floor, accessible via two staircases and an elevator, consists mostly of office space and classrooms.
Enumclaw’s parks department will be located on top of the senior center — off to one side will be classrooms, one for Arts Alive! and two more as common areas.
The Chamber of Commerce is located on the other side of the parks department, along with bathrooms.
DOLLARS AND CENTS
The cost of this project has been estimated at around $14 million, but those are soft numbers, and could come in higher.
Councilmember Tom Sauvageau, during the last council meeting, noted that while this is a large amount of money, it’s not a “massive” amount, especially when you compare it to the $243 million bond the Enumclaw School District will likely push this February, increasing local property taxes by around $1.60 if approved.
At the $14 million estimate, taxpayers could expect to add just a few more cents to their property tax rate.
If Enumclaw ends up putting a 20-year bond on a ballot, the tax rate for city residents would rise by 35 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value. This would increase the average property tax bill (for someone with $420,000 in property, the local median value) by about $147.
If the city goes for a 30-year bond, the levy rate is estimated to be 26 cents, with an average annual increase of nearly $110.
Mayor Jan Molinaro said he hopes to get the bond on the April 2023 special election ballot, meaning solid numbers are likely to come soon.
The bond will require 60% approval to pass.
While there are no open houses currently scheduled, the city is moving quickly on this bond, so keep an eye out for public meetings in the near future.
IS THE GYM NECESSARY?
The biggest debate council members had during the last council meeting was over the full-sized gymnasium.
One one side is Councilmember Bobby Martinez; the other, Councilmembers Anthony Wright, Chance La Fleur, and Tom Sauvageau. Councilmembers Corrie Frazier, Chris Gruner, and Beau Chevassus, while present, did not speak much on this topic, though Chevassus and Frazier have already signaled their support for the gym, while Gruner wanted to see options without one.
Martinez, while making it clear he supports the community center project overall, has voiced significant concern that the gym won’t be as well utilized as the other council member believe, and as such, local taxpayers would be funding an unnecessary portion of this community center project.
“I just wanted to point out we still have no evidence or proof that anybody in the community wants this giant gymnasium,” he said. “We spent a ton of time and resources developing it. I’m assuming we’re going to spend a lot more, and again, we don’t have a survey —we have some anecdotes from Facebook, and a couple people that came in here talked about it.”
Several other council members agreed that the city lacks solid data about whether the Enumclaw community really wants or needs the gym.
However, La Fleur pointed out that he’s been collecting anecdotal evidence for a decade, ever since he was first elected to council.
“This has been talked about for so long. I have copies of the Railroad Promenade study from 1994? This has been three decades of talk and conjecture,” he said. “At some point, we either need to fish or cut bait. And I think, let’s see if the voters want us to go fishing.”
And other council members and city staff pointed out they’ve not had any recent success in gathering a substantial amount of public input or opinions on any topic, with exception to a survey where Enumclaw asked where it should build a new dog park.
“If you want a survey, we can do a survey, but as we’ve seen with surveys before, unless you’re super passionate about the project — i.e. the dog park — and you get a Facebook page that generates that kind of response,” Wright said. “Most of the time we get less than a couple hundred people. And as you and I saw in the school district’s presentation, they’re making their decision based on basically 650-some people.”
Martinez also questioned whether it’s the role of the city government to expand its parks and recreation services, and why the free market hasn’t stepped in, if there’s such a need.
“Is that our job, to provide what could be covered by a private entity? Generally, the market obliges,” he continued. “If there is a huge demand for a large indoor gymnasium, then why hasn’t some savvy entrepreneur come into town and built that? If there’s potentially hundreds or thousands, or over a 10-year period, millions of dollars to be made, I look at that as strange that someone hasn’t come in to fill that need yet.”
Parks and Rec Director Michelle Larson noted previously the city could see upwards of $2 million in additional revenue from its soccer, basketball, and volleyball programs if it was able to have its own space, rather than renting from the Enumclaw School District.
“We’re limited to about 30 teams in our youth basketball league and that’s because we… don’t have the ability to use the gymnasium on the weekends, so we’re limited to weeknights,” she said, adding that her programs have waiting lists. “With our own gymnasium, we’d be able to double if not triple the amount of teams we provide based on having multiple seasons and/or more time to provide times for kids to play games and practices.”
La Fleur and Wright countered that the city is able to provide these sports programs at a much lower cost than private entities, allowing low-income residents to participate.
“The free market will move in for a lot of things,” La Fleur said. “There are some things that it wont… there are some things that are better for government.”
“They’re trying to make money,” Wright added later. “We’re trying to provide a service that kids who are not going to be able to afford those programs, we’re providing them access to.”
The two of them, and other council members, believe that city won’t be able to meet the approval requirement if they don’t include the gym in the design.
“The most important thing… is the fact that you have to go out and get a vote on this, and you have to get 60%,” Wright said, noting that seniors make up less than a quarter of Enumclaw’s population. “So you have to think, how are you going to sell this to the other rest of the voting population. And the way that you sell that to the rest of the voting population is by giving something for families and for kids… our city provides the greatest affordability [programs] to the middle- and lower-class that exist in Enumclaw. So when you think of that, and you need 60% of the vote, it makes sense to include something that’s basically going to appeal to families, which I think where they gym comes in.”
SENIOR/DIABLED PROPERTY TAX REDUCTIONS
Martinez expressed worry about some Enumclaw residents may not be able to afford additional property taxes, maybe especially those who vote “no” for the community, and it passing anyway.
Seniors and veterans that meet certain criteria can apply for reduced to deferred property taxes through King County.
To qualify for the 2022 tax benefit year, seniors must:
• Be born in 1960 is earlier; or
• Be disabled or a veteran with at least 80% total disability
These residents must also:
• Own their residence as on Dec. 31 of the prior tax benefit year
• Occupy the residence six months of the year
• Have an annual household income under $58,423, including Social Security and other sources of money
There are other various tax exemption, deferral, and relief programs available. To learn more, or apply, head to kingcounty.gov/depts/assessor/TaxRelief.aspx.