Sammamish Community Center running $4 million over budget
September 19, 2013
By Ari Cetron
New: Sept. 18, 2:16 p.m.
Latest estimates put the Sammamish Community Center more than 10 percent over budget. Reactions on the City Council varied greatly: One councilwoman was ready for the city to write a check to cover the difference, while another mused about how high the overrun could go before they pull the plug on the project.
The crux of the council’s argument at its Sept. 10 meeting was a debate about the nature of an advisory vote last November. At that time, voters approved a $30 million community center with a list of proposed amenities. At the latest meeting, it seems one of those – either some of the amenities or the initial budget – will have to be scrapped.
At the meeting, councilmembers heard from City Manager Ben Yazici and from the design team that the project, as originally envisioned, will cost $34 million.
Yazici said one of the big drivers was a change in construction costs. He cited other recent projects which are costing the city more than expected.
He further said that the increase in costs was due to an improving economy – many contractors are not struggling to find work as much as they were a couple of years ago.
The construction boom, he said, is having a positive effect on the city’s balance sheet as well. While the city had initially expected an ending fund balance of $46 million at the end of this two-year budget cycle, they are now on track for it to be $60 million, Yazici said.
With that backdrop, he explained options. One, the council could allocate additional funding to cover the extra costs. The other option would be to put out the project for bids with some of the items – including a water slide, large gym and jogging track, worth a combined $2.5 million – considered optional.
If a contractor could come in under budget with those items, they could add them, but otherwise they would be cut out. This option would also reduce the project’s contingency fund – money used to offset unexpected costs – from 10 percent to 7 percent.
Yazici also suggested taking the parking lot and loop road, worth $1.9 million, and paying for it from a different budget.
He was quick to suggest that the council not make any decisions at this point. Yazici noted that the project is at the 30-percent design phase and still has many variables to be worked out.
He said it would be better to wait to make a decision until the 60-percent milestone, likely to come toward the end of October.
“At this point, there are so many unknowns,” he said.
As the City Council discussed the project, opinions were sharply varied.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten said she liked what the plan looked like so far. While she said she was disappointed that the construction estimates came in so high, she said it was understandable. She also noted the city was taking in more money as a result.
Whitten said that when residents voted, they had a specific community center explained to them. If too much of the project is cut out, she said the city would not be giving the people what they want. She said she was ready to make a motion to allocate the extra funding.
“This is a one-shot deal. I don’t want to nickel and dime the project,” Whitten said.
Councilmen Don Gerend and Tom Vance generally echoed Whitten’s comments. Vance further suggested waiting until more specific cost estimates are available.
Councilman Ramiro Valderrama took a nearly opposite opinion. He said that people had voted on a $30 million project and the council should hold to that number, not to the size of the project.
“I believe the public deserves our trust,” he said.
He also questioned the idea that the overruns were due solely to the construction bidding environment.
Valderrama went on to question the viability of the entire project.
“What is the number that this council says, ‘We either pull the plug or change the management team,’” he said.
Councilman John James, who works in real estate, noted another issue. The estimates are trying to peg what construction costs are going to be in 26 months, something that is far from certain, he said.
James also said that cutting off parts of the project could be too drastic at this point.
James further suggested that if what the city and the YMCA has is truly a partnership, then the Y should pay more, too.
Mayor Tom Odell said he’s not happy about the extra costs, but understood the reality. At the same time, he said it’s the council’s duty to be good stewards of public dollars, and that there are a host of other worthy projects on which the city could spend money.
Odell urged caution. He noted that the project’s contingency budget accounts for much of the overage. As the design gets further along and numbers firm up, they may find it’s not as much over budget as they’d first thought.
“We don’t have to cut this off at the knees today,” Odell said.
The council will hear another presentation about the community center at the 60-percent design phase, expected in a few weeks.
Two council members called a proposal to move part of the project cost to a different budget at least partly disingenuous.
The project calls for spending about $1.9 million on a parking lot and loop road.
City Manager Ben Yazici said the parking was needed in the Sammamish Commons area anyway, so it would be reasonable to take that portion of the project out of the community center budget and pay for them from other sources.
Councilman Ramiro Valderrama and Mayor Tom Odell both said removing the loop road would be “disingenuous.”
Odell said the parking would be needed anyway, and pointed to the parking crunch any time there is an activity at the Sammamish Commons. However, the loop road should be considered part of the project cost.
Valderrama didn’t make the distinction. He said moving any items off the budget would be hiding them.
The Y’s numbers
Marcia Isenberger, regional executive for the YMCA, presented the council with a list of activities and financial details.
First, Isenberger read through a laundry list of dozens of activities she expects the Y will offer. The classes are designed for all age groups. Isenberger said they will try to program the facility so there is something going on for each age group at all times – they want to avoid gaps where it’s all adult or all youth programming.
She then showed the council an outline of the Y’s projected budget. The Y assumes that in the first year of operations, the facility will have about 3,300 member households (some households will have more than one person who uses the facility).
In 2016, the Y expects that number to grow to 3,548. At that point, they project $2.38 million in revenue and $2.58 million in expenses.
As part of the operating agreement with the city, the Y is responsible for finding funding for the deficit. By 2020, the Y expects to have 4,011 households registered and a surplus of $16,574. By the terms of the agreement, the Y would get to keep that extra money.
What’s inside and outside
The Sammamish Community Center is set to go on the site currently occupied by a pink mansion behind the city’s library, known as the Kellman property. The plan called for the city to pay $25 million toward construction costs, with the YMCA paying the other $5 million.
The city would own the building, and the YMCA would take charge of operations and maintenance. There will be a pair of community rooms in the front of the building, available to any Sammamish resident, even if they are not YMCA members.
In addition, the facility will have rooms for exercise classes, exercise equipment, a gym, a lap pool, a recreational pool, a kitchen and a child care space.
Craig Bouck, of architecture firm Barker Rinker Seacat, said that the design team has not had to make any major changes to the inside since their last presentation.
He said his firm has been looking at ways to maximize the space used. While, for example, a basketball court must have certain dimensions, a stairwell might have a bit of leeway to be slightly smaller. Designers at his firm have been working to shrink what spaces they can, where they can, in order to preserve space, he said.
He also showed the council some ideas for the outside of the building. He said that while the nearby City Hall and library are different architecturally, they might be able to use the design of the community center to bridge those differences and make the three buildings seems more like a family.
Reach editor Ari Cetron at 392-6434, ext. 23, or firstname.lastname@example.org.