Enumclaw might finally pull the trigger on asking for community center funding.
The idea for a community center has been floated for decades, but the current city council started seriously looking into the project last November — and will be discussing putting a bond to voters come the April 2024 special election during their Nov. 27 meeting.
At this time, the project is expected to cost about $21 million. For taxpayers, this would mean an estimated additional property tax of 28 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value; the annual bill for homeowners with $500,000 in assessed property value (which is different than market value) would be $140. The length of the bond is up to 29 years.
It should be noted that local seniors whose household makes under a certain income level are eligible for property tax exemptions and deferrals through King County.
If passed by a supermajority (60%) of voters, the building — once completed — will be the new home for the local senior center, the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce, the Visitor’s Center, the Arts Alive! nonprofit, and the city’s Parks and Rec Department.
The building, which will also feature an open-air pavilion, a covered commons area/event space, various instructional spaces, and a full-sized gym, is planned to be built along Initial Avenue, between Cole Street and Railroad Street; directly next to it would be parking, albeit less than what is currently offered in that lot.
Trying to convince local voters to approve the bond is likely an uphill battle for community center supporters, but it doesn’t seem impossible; though 75% of ballots cast by local voters rejected a $253 million Enumclaw School District bond for new schools, performing arts center, and sports stadium, Enumclaw Fire Department voters passed a levy lid lift in August 2022 by more than 62%, and voters inside Enumclaw city limits supported renewing King County’s Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy by 53%.
In an interview with Mayor Jan Molinaro, city staff, and other community center stakeholders, one thing was clear — that they believe this project will go a long, long way in supporting everyone in the community: kids and teens needing space to play organized sports; seniors wanting to stay in shape and socialize; visitors looking to learn more about the city; and everyone else who would benefit from additional or enhanced downtown events.
“We’ve kind of have a quasi-tag line, ‘for all ages,’” Molinaro said. “We literally mean that, from… the youngsters being able to utilize the gym some way, all the way to pickleball for seniors and everyone in-between.”
If the bond is passed, the city hopes construction (once it begins) will take about a year-and-a-half.
Designs are not finalized at this time, though renderings and general plans have been set; there will be open houses for the public to learn about the project in the near future, if the city council approves a bond measure.
The idea of building a community center was born out of what the Enumclaw City Council — and many local seniors — see as a need for a new senior center.
The building, built in 1928 as a garment factory and was converted into the city-run senior center in the early 1908s, is beyond small (or even major) repairs and modernization projects, city employees and hired architects have told the council.
Among some of the issues are an out-of-code roof, a too-small kitchen, a lack of storage, non-existant fire detection systems, and you can’t even shut off the power to the building unless you climb a nearby power pole; Molinaro said that at this point, attempting to repair the building would mean spending more money than the senior center is worth.
Local senior Janine Carpenter, who is on the citizens advisory committee for the community center and a resource coordinator at the senior center, recently said that safety at the senior center is a huge issue.
Due to the fact that the senior center only has 11 parking spaces, many of the 700 regular visitors have to park elsewhere and walk to the senior center.
“It’s harder and harder to be a pedestrian in this town, with our growth,” she added, citing a recent car versus pedestrian accident that happened at the intersection near the senior center. “That’s a safety issue right there, in addition to the building itself.”
It’s the same with the city-owned Chambers and Arts Alive! buildings; Chamber Chairman Tim Dehnert said that at this point, his building is practically more useful flat than standing. It should also be noted that the chamber no longer uses its offices for official meetings, and many times out of the year during big events (like last weekend’s wine walk), even the visitor’s center is inaccessible during event preparation.
Dehnert added that with a new community center, the city would no longer have to take care of three aging buildings, but one brand-new building, reducing overall costs.
PARKS AND REC EXPANSION
Enumclaw’s Parks and Rec Director Alina Hibbs said there’s a major need to expand the city’s recreation programs.
At this time, the city utilizes Enumclaw School District facilities — but for obvious reasons, time slots for school gyms are limited to the afternoons and on week days.
Hibbs said that last year, her program had five full youth basketball teams that simply couldn’t play because there wasn’t room or time, and those that can are squeezed in wherever it works.
“We’re very limited on… the hours we can play,” she said. “I mean, we have kindergarteners playing basketball at eight o’clock at night.”
A full gym, owned and operated by the city all throughout the week and weekend, would mean that they can expand the number of youth sports teams, which are currently focused on ages 5 to 12, and even branch out into teens sports — and that’s not to mention the benefits this building would have for the city’s summer camp programs for kids, Hibbs continued.
Transparency and accountability might be the two most important issues local voters consider when it comes to increased taxes.
This stems, at least in part, from when a 2015 Enumclaw School District bond squeaked by with just four votes, but the bond ended up not paying for a promised Enumclaw High performing arts center and gym; eight years later, this snafu continues to haunt the district, despite the fact that there is a new superintendent, administration, and school board.
According to City Administrator Chris Searcy, the city has done its best to both reduce the taxpayer burden (earlier estimates put the tax rate at 33 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value, but the city was able to reduce that rate by reassessing what stakeholders need, rather than what they want) as well as plan for the unexpected.
“The cost estimate has enough conservatism built into it that if unforeseen things happen… we can accommodate a lot of that just within the way it’s estimated, without having to reduce the size of the facility or the things its serving,” he continued.
Searcy added that Enumclaw plans to purchase the bond in two parts — that way, if any additional outside funding for the project comes in (for example, state and federal grants the city is continuing to apply for, but not banking on) the city can purchase a smaller bond the second time around and reduce the property tax rate.
ANNUAL OPERATING COSTS
There’s the cost of construction — and then there is the cost of operating and maintaining a new community center.
Perhaps luckily for the community, much of what would happen in the new building would be handled by senior center, Arts Alive!, and Chamber volunteers, or current parks and rec and city janitorial staff, limiting the need for additional employees, Molinaro said.
But some additional expenses are going to be incurred; Searcy estimates an additional half-time receptionist, custodian, and recreation assistant, putting staffing costs at an estimated $100,000 in 2025.
“Again, the city is not getting into this to be a for-profit organization,” Molinaro continued, noting the city-run pool, which is a “money pit, but in a positive way.” “It’s something that is offered to the community for everyone in the community to use.”
As for utilities, they are “expected to be the same as the combined Senior/Youth center buildings due to vastly improved energy efficiency and plumbing fixtures,” Searcy said, which means that will likely have little to no effect on the city’s general budget.