Have questions about the proposed Enumclaw community center? Here are some answers

Residents have taken to social media to ask about the proposed $21 million project — this is Part 1 of a series to address these questions and concerns.

Do you have questions about the proposed Enumclaw community center?

If so, you’re not alone — everything from, “Was there already a vote on the community center?” to “Who will be taxed?” and “Why not utilize another building instead of constructing a new one?” has been asked at least once in the numerous social media conversation threads over the last several months.

The window to answer those questions is short, so with the April 2024 special election inching closer, here’s the first part of a two-part series that aims to address your queries about the bond in general; part two will focus on what the city hopes to achieve by expanding its parks and rec programs.

Additionally, the city of Enumclaw is hosting two open houses at the senior center — one on March 14, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and another on March 23, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. — if you have more questions.


The proposed Enumclaw community center, if local voters approved a bond this April, will be built on the corner of Cole Street and Initial Avenue, across the street from Seeder’s Steakhouse.

While final designs are not yet completely solidified — and won’t be, unless the bond passes — the building will be the new home for the Enumclaw Senior Center, the local Chamber of Commerce, the Arts Alive! nonprofit, and the city’s Parks and Rec program.

There will also be an open pavilion and a covered commons area for everyday use and special events, instructional spaces and a kitchen for rent, and a full-sized gym that would be both open to the public and would help expand the city’s various youth and adult sports league programs.

The whole project is expected to cost $21 million.

However, the city is using some of its general funds to pay for the project, so the measure on the April special election ballot is asking voters to approve a $19.5 million bond.

City officials have said they will be continuing to apply for grants and accept private donations in order to reduce local taxes, but they are not relying on the possibility of outside funding in order to complete this project. The city also hopes that the old senior center could be leveraged (sold or leased out) for additional funds.

If the $19.5 million bond is passed, a homeowner with property assessed at $500,000 would see an estiamted 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed value added to their property taxes; that’s $12.50 a month, or $150 a year.

As the bond is expected to last 29 years, that’s about $4,350 in additional property taxes for said homeowner over the lifetime of the bond.

Molinaro said the continue to welcome input on the community center designs, “but anything that would be changed would have a cost to it, and it could increase the cost of the building.”


The only people who will be voting on the bond are locals who live within the Enumclaw city limits — and they will be the only taxpayers who fund the project.

Passing a bond is not easy. Not only do a supermajority (60%) of voters need to approve the bond for the measure to pass, but at least 40% of voters who participated in the previous general election (about 1,500 voters) also need to show up for the special election, which are notorious for low voter turnout.

Proposed floor plans for the Enumclaw Community Center, showing the outdoor space, the community center, rooms for the senior center, Arts Alive! and the Enumclaw Chamber, the full-sized gym, and more. These are the current first floor plans. Image courtesy the city of Enumclaw

Proposed floor plans for the Enumclaw Community Center, showing the outdoor space, the community center, rooms for the senior center, Arts Alive! and the Enumclaw Chamber, the full-sized gym, and more. These are the current first floor plans. Image courtesy the city of Enumclaw


The conversation about a new community center started in February 2022, when the city council decided local seniors needed a new senior center — the building is nearly 100 years old, does not meet any modern standards, services are cramped and the room to expand is nonexistent, and trying to modernize the structure would cost far more than the building is worth, city officials like Mayor Jan Molinaro and Senior Center Executive Director Melissa Holt have said.

But as the conversation continued, elected officials decided it was a good idea to fold some additional organizations into the project like the Enumclaw Chamber and Arts Alive!, both of which currently occupy old, crumbling buildings along Cole Street and have need to expand.

Finally, the city’s Parks and Rec Department has said adding a full gym to the project would help it expand its various youth and adult sports leagues, and other elected officials have said there has been a large need for a space where youth and teens can congregate year-round for sports — pick-up or organized — studying, or other activities.

In short, Molinaro, city staff, other elected officials and proponents of the community center want to give Enumclaw a community center that will serve all ages through sports, art, and events in a central location that brings activity to downtown.

Beyond this message, Molinaro also hopes locals recognize that the city of Enumclaw has been “very prudent” with tax money.

For example, “until this last budget cycle, we had zero percent [increases] on several utilities, including the 1% [Cost of Living Adjustments],” he said. “We could have taken COLAs each of those years — 2% automatic raises — but we didn’t… the reserves were healthy in some of those utilities, so we felt, why continue to raise rates when we don’t need to?”

Additionally, in 2019, the city even reduced its sewer rates by 10%; other cost increases like solid waste rates have had to increase because King County also increased their fees.

At this time, it’s unclear when the city of Enumclaw last ran a levy or bond on a ballot, but past elections show none were run in the last 14 years. The city did run — and the community approved — a 0.1% sales tax to finance transportation maintenance and improvements in 2015.

“Yes, this is going to raise property taxes, but the property taxes we’re raising stays in our community, whereas other property taxes that are raised go elsewhere in King County,” Molinaro continued. “I would hope [residents] see this as a one-in-a-generation opportunity to be able to provide something that would last for many generations.”


For most, it seems to come down to taxes.

While six of the seven council members voted to move forward with this bond measure, Councilmember Bobby Martinez has been vocal about his opposition.

“If six out of ten people in the community go out and say, ‘Hey we think we should take some of your money so we can build this community center out here,’ that doesn’t make it right,” Martinez said during a council meeeting last November, referring to the 60% supermajority necessary for the bond to pass during the election. “I think that people are getting nickled and dimed from every angle right now, and I just can’t be part of adding to that burden.”

Many others have echoed Martinez’s sentiments on social media, with some thinking the city should use its own money to operate a community center out of an already constructed — but empty — building, and still a few more are worried about the continued operating costs after a community center is built.

A few final arguments include believing youth will not utilize the gym as much as elected officials think; the community center will ruin the look of downtown/make downtown too much like larger cities; the city already had a way for the community to gather on Cole Street when it used to be closed on weekends; and the building will take up valuable downtown parking space.

A sketch of the second floor plans of the proposed community center. Image courtesy the city of Enumclaw

A sketch of the second floor plans of the proposed community center. Image courtesy the city of Enumclaw


Many people on social media have asked why the city isn’t considering using other empty space around the city for the community center — the Key Bank building on Cole Street, the recently-emptied Rite Aid building near Safeway, and the Enumclaw Expo Center have all been brought up as possibilities.

The city has examined these options, according to Mayor Molinaro, and there are three reasons why these areas, and others, wouldn’t work.

The first is cost.

“The potential of paying an annual lease for an untold number of years (20 or 30 or more) does not make financial sense when considering that it would escalate with inflation and rent increases, would be paid out of the general fund which we do not [use] currently for building space, and would create additional pressure to a balanced budget,” he said.

Unlike some buildings that will need a lease, like Rite Aid, the recently-closed Moose Lodge is for sale for $2 million.

Molinaro pointed out that the Moose Lodge is also an old structure, and the city would still need to invest “several million dollars” to bring it up to snuff as a new senior center, but it also runs into the second and third reasons why other buildings won’t work — space and centralization.

Using a smaller building than the proposed community center “would not accommodate the need to expand facilities for pre-K, youth and adult activities that the full gym would provide,” Molinaro said. “This is for community activities. [Moving away from downtown] takes away the opportunity to have concerts out there, farmer’s markets, everything we’re trying to do for young families to come downtown.”

For Key Bank specifically, the city entered into conversations about buying the building for the senior center and other city departments back in 2019, Molinaro said, but Key Bank wasn’t interested.

“It would have been something that could have worked for the senior center, it could have worked for the police department, and it would have worked for other city staff,” he continued. “The only think it would not have had would have been a full gymnasium.”


The bond measure locals will be voting on only funds the construction of a community center, so continued operating costs is a concern for some.

Additional staff will have to be hired in order to run and maintain a community center, Molinaro said; it’s estimated the city will need a half-time receptionist, as well as a full-time custodian and recreation assistant, so estimated staffing costs come out to around $100,000 in 2025.

However, “I would venture to guess that a large portion of that cost would be covered by fees and rentals,” he continued. “Would it be all of it? I don’t know at this time. Nothing is 100%, but I would venture that some of it would need to come out of budget, that we would find money for.”

There’s utility costs, too — electricity, natural gas, water, etc. But City Administrator Chris Searcy has said a modern structure would be far more sustainable and efficient than the current senior center, the Arts Alive!, and Chamber buildings (the latter two which the city owns as well), so utility costs would be comparable to what they currently are.

The city has noted that grants are available for community center operations that it can apply for to further reduce any impact on the city’s budget, and it was also pointed out that volunteers from Arts Alive!, the Chamber, and the Senior Center will be operating out of one building, not three, and might provide come cost relief.


Managing a community center would not be the first time Enumclaw assumed operational responsibilities of a facility — though, over the last two decades, the city has had to relinquish that control to other organizations for various reasons.

The former Enumclaw library is a prime example, because the city ran the library for decades until voters approved an annexatioon into the King County Library System in 2012, at least in part to dwindling funds.

Molinaro wasn’t mayor in 2012, but he said the decision for elected officials to put the KCLS annexation onto a ballot was because KCLS was able to provide a higher level of service at a comparable or lesser cost than a city-run library, not solely because the city was low on funds.

There’s also the local golf course and the Expo Center, both of which the city operated for a few years each before contracting out to private operators; Molinaro said these were prudent business decisions, not the result of poor financial management.

“Regarding the golf course, the city chose to move to a private operator under a lease agreement rather than operate using city employees. A golf course is run like a business and union labor contracts made the city uncompetitive in the golf course market,” Molinaro said, adding that the city only took over the course when it received “unfavorable proposals” from the private sector. “Like the golf course, the city chose to lease the Expo facility to a non-profit private operator that could operate without the higher labor costs.”

That leaves the Enumclaw pool as the last facility the city took over from King County years ago and continues to operate. The pool has run on a deficit for years, subsidized by the city’s general fund (though Molinaro said expenses “have narrowed” these last few budgets).

Molinaro has said that, like the pool, the city does not plan to operate the community center as a money maker or contract it out to a private entity, which helps keeps costs down so all income levels are able to receive services.

“Although technically possible, we do not see a viable private operator to carry out these public services,” he said.

An overview of the proposed community center. Image courtesy the city of Enumclaw

An overview of the proposed community center. Image courtesy the city of Enumclaw


Many locals have noticed how some parts of town — Rotary Centennial Park off Roosevelt Avenue, or just outside QFC — can occasionally be taken over by Enumclaw’s transient population, so how can the city prevent the same from happening at the new community center?

“We will manage that, just like we do the other venues,” Molinaro said. “We do have certain procedures in place to be able to deal with that, under current law.”

Molinaro pointed out that in 2019, the Supreme Court allowed Martin v. Boise to stand, which prevents people experiencing homelessness from being punished for sleeping on public property when there is an absence of alternatives; additionally, the Ninth Circuit Court affirmed last year a lower court’s ruling in Gloria Johnson v. City of Grants Pass that the city could not enforce its anti-camping laws for sleeping on public property when there are no alternatives.

The Supreme Court is reviewing Gloria Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, “so we’ll see if they come out with a decision in June that may help provide some opportunities for the community to be able to deal with that differently,” Molinaro said, adding that he sees not just homeless, but many issues, though a lens of legal liability and how keep the city out of lawsuits. “Do you like it? No. But this is legally what we have to follow.”


What could happen if voters don’t approve the bond measure is unclear.

In numerous social media comments, Councilmember Anthony Wright has mentioned that the city would drop the issue and not run another bond, though he doesn’t speak for the whole council.

But that still leaves the city with an obsolete senior center, one that the city has said it can’t adequately repair, modernize, or replace on its own. This keeps open the possibility that the city will ask for a another bond to only fund a new senior center in the future, or explore other options.


Enumclaw’s Parks and Rec sports programs, according to director Alina Hibbs, are at their max capacity for its youth (kindergarten through sixth grade) sports programs, adult sports leagues, and summer camps, and the city had to put a cap on waitlists to keep them manageable.

What Hibbs and the city hopes to achieve by expanding rec programs will be explored in part two of this series, as well as how the current Enumclaw Youth Center, run by the YMCA, could be a part of the new building.