The kitchen in the Queen Anne Community Center limits how many people can participate in its senior meals program.
The kitchen in the Queen Anne Community Center limits how many people can participate in its senior meals program.

Designs for stabilization projects at the Queen Anne and Magnolia community centers are still taking shape, but with a scaled back scope and undetermined start time.

“We’re restarting the design process, because we stopped because we didn’t have the money to do it all,” said Seattle Parks and Recreation project manager Toby Ressler. “We kind of moved some stuff around and looked at all projects together.”

Both aging facilities are expected to receive around $2.75 million in upgrades, and it’s not clear yet whether the projects will start at the same time or be staggered, Ressler said. The community centers would have to close temporarily for a portion of the work. Ressler expects the projects to go out to bid next spring.

While the work is needed and appreciated, there are advocates in both neighborhoods who want to see a greater investment in these popular community resources all at once rather than in phases that only slightly push their longevity a little further.

Voters approved the creation of a metropolitan Seattle Park District in 2014, which provides capital project funding through property taxes. The city council serves as its governing board.

The total capital budget from 2015-18 was $114.13 million, and of that just $11.57 million exists in the Community Center Rehabilitation and Redevelopment Program.

Seattle Park District’s first six-year financial plan was to provide $4.3 million annually for capital investments in community centers. To date, only $2.5 million has been spent through the Community Center Rehabilitation and Redevelopment Program.

The Queen Anne Community Center received a seismic retrofit in 2015, and has been recommended for many more repairs and upgrades going all the way back to a 2008 architectural and engineering study by SPR.

“Queen Anne has just stayed on the list and never been taken off or upgraded, other that just basic seismic improvements,” said Maria Hawkins, president of the Queen Anne Community Center Advisory Council.

The Queen Anne Community Center was one of eight community centers in the 2008 study identified as needing a more in-depth study. The total cost of improving six and replacing two centers was determined to be $62.6 million.

“This cost far exceeds the funding provided in the Seattle Park District’s Community Center and Redevelopment Initiative, and clearly indicates that SPR must prioritize and phase its capital investments to make the best use of limited resources,” according to a 2016 Community Centers Strategic Plan, which added an assessment of the Magnolia Community Center.

Queen Anne has had $1.67 million in project investments from 1996 to 2015, which included the seismic renovation, roof repairs, a new sprinkler system, a gym floor renovation and improvements to lighting, floors and for ADA access.

In that same time $939,000 has been spent on repairs at the Magnolia Community Center.

The 2016 Community Centers Strategic Plan identified maintenance and renovation needs for Queen Anne and Magnolia reaching $3.36 million and $5.7 million, respectively, but the plan recommends immediate improvements costing $1.6 million and $2.8 million.

The $2.75 million expected to be injected into designs for the Queen Anne Community Center isn’t new. Hawkins said she spoke with Ressler last July about the project, and at that time the design process was expected to be done by November.

“He is the second person that has been a part of that process,” she said, “so it’s almost three years since Queen Anne has been slated for these improvements.”

The Magnolia Community Center Stabilization Project had a budget of $2.84 million when the scope of work was released in 2017. That included roof repairs, structural enhancements to the gym, replacing windows in the multipurpose rooms, restroom remodels and accessibility improvements in the parking lot, plaza and main entrance. These were the highest priority items, but others included an independent fire alarm detection system, pipe replacements, electrical upgrades and a platform lift between the gym and lobby.

The project scope was scaled back in April, but still includes the highest priorities and those ranked in a second tier.

Kacey Kroeger has served on the Magnolia Community Center Advisory Council for more than a decade, and she’s also tired of waiting for improvements.

“It’s just falling apart,” she said of the community center, which is connected to Catharine Blaine K-8, but operated independent from the school. “There’s not enough room for our programs. There’s no room for our daycare; there’s always a waitlist.”

Most other community centers, including in Queen Anne, have a fitness center, but not Magnolia.

“Physical exercise is a huge part of our health,” Kroeger said, “and we don’t have access to that.”

Kroeger wants to see either a major renovation of the Magnolia Community Center take shape or a rebuild. She’s concerned about current accessibility issues for people of all ages and a lack of capacity to help everyone seeking out programs offered at the center.

The Queen Anne Community Center is also unable to meet demand for its senior and child care programs, so many residents are put on waiting lists, Hawkins said, pointing out a lack of usable space.

“That is 100 percent a structural problem, because there are no other spaces that are appropriate for child care,” she said.

There is a large chunk of the community center that is not being used at all, including locker rooms and old showers, closets and other closed-off spaces, Hawkins said.

She’d like to see the community center maintain its footprint, but better utilize the space, so it can better serve the community and provide connections between residents and other services.

“It is the most used community center in the city that doesn’t have a pool attached to it,” Hawkins said, “and if you include it with the community centers that do have a pool attached, it’s usually the second or third.”

Queen Anne rebuild plans

Build LLC architect Kevin Eckert has coached his children’s soccer teams at Big Howe Park for more than a decade, and he also wants to see the city make a real and lasting investment in rebuilding the Queen Anne Community Center; so much so that the firm provided proof-of-concept designs for how to do it, incorporating the existing improvements.

“We’re just demonstrating a manner in which the center can be rehabbed with the work that’s already been done and renovated to meet today’s community needs,” Eckert said.

Eckert also frequently swims in Evans Pool at the Green Lake Community Center, and Build LLC has designs for replacing that facility completely.

Because the city council has taken a stance on equity, he said, Build LLC produced a Community Centers for All proposal that assesses the eight centers identified in need of major maintenance and upgrades back in 2008.

“We don’t want it to look like wealthy neighborhoods taking care of their own stuff,” Eckert said.

The report notes these community centers didn’t receive investment funding from the a libraries and community center levy in 1999, or the 2000 Pro Parks levy, or the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces levy.

Build LLC projects the cost for an extensive rebuild of the Queen Anne Community Center at around $10 million, while replacing Green Lake is estimated at $25 million.

“For the full renovation, we’ve focused primarily on space planning and updating the closed-off facility to re-engage the community, adjacent pool and updated QA urban center,” the report states. “We have incorporated the goals that the Friends of the QA Community Center have been striving for during the last 5 years.”

Magnolia is also on the list with a $6.8 million renovation.

“We didn’t get very far with councilmembers,” Eckert said, “and to their credit, when they took this a little bit forward a few years ago there was some community backlash.”

People worried about the city engaging in public-private partnerships, he said.

If there ever were the political will at the council level, which will look much different after this year’s election, Eckert said the scope of Build LLC’s proposal would require shutting down a majority of the center and relocating services.

“Just phasing stuff, generally it makes it much worse for much longer, but that would have to be part of a much more comprehensive design exercise,” Eckert said.

Ressler said Seattle Parks and Recreation is looking at potentially rebuilding the Loyal Heights Community Center, as the cost could be similar to what would be spent on repairs due to its poor condition, but no other community centers are being considered for replacement at this time.

Eckert said he’s not concerned about how the renovations are scheduled so much as he is that they come to fruition.

“These waiting lists for the programs are longer than the amount of people who are being served by the programs,” he said about the Queen Anne Community Center.

Funding and political will

Eckert said he’s encouraging the city to pursue a debt-financing model similar to what it does with other large capital campaigns.

But it’s only the city council that can boost the budget and make community centers a higher priority. The council governs the Seattle Park District, deciding how much capital needs to be raised and how it should be spent.

When the Seattle Park District was formed, so too was the Park District Oversight Committee, which is tasked with ensuring funds are being spent the way voters had intended.

The oversight committee submitted a District Mid-Cycle Report covering 2015-17 in January with an attached cover letter highlighting the district’s successes and challenges.

Among the insufficient investments being made by the district the committee highlighted were for community centers and parks acquisition, noting the increase in demand as a result of Seattle’s “rapid and unprecedented population growth” of more than 100,000 over the past decade.

The district’s six-year spending plan “has resulted in insufficient District funding for necessary services and maintenance to meet the growing needs,” reads the letter submitted to Park District Board president Deborah Juarez.

The next six-year cycle starts in 2021.

“We are carrying out the initial six-year plan as approved and funded: consequently this demand for ‘more’ remains unmet, and may put pressure on the next six-year plan to shift the focus away from maintenance and more toward new community centers and park improvements,” reads the Mid-Cycle Report. “It must be kept in mind that any large, urban parks-and-recreation system crucially requires sustained investment in major maintenance for existing and new assets.”

“If we’re talking about maybe we should just knock it down and build a new one, that’s a big lift, because there are a lot of community centers that have reached that point,” said Steven Gillespie, District 7 representative for the Park District Oversight Committee.

The Seattle Park District does have the authority to collect more taxes, Gillespie said, which could be a way to increase funding to tackle larger projects. The maximum allowed under state law would be 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, and the levy set in 2018 for collection in 2019 was 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That is expected to generate $52 million in revenue.

“There is capacity in what the voters already approved to increase the amount that the parks district brings in,” Gillespie said.

The District 7 representative, who now lives in District 3 and expects to change positions when his term is up, said the best thing people concerned about community center funding can do is speak up.

“I will tell you our meetings are pretty lonely places,” Gillespie said. “We welcome public comment.”

The oversight committee and Board of Park Commissioners will come together for a joint meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, in the Seattle Parks and Recreation Administration Building, 100 Dexter Ave. N.

“We welcome public comment,” Gillespie said. “We appreciate public comment.”

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