Rendition of new library

Rendition of new library
The New Point Roberts Library Out of the Old Julius Firehall

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Levy on the November 8 Ballot

From the All Point Bulletin, October 2016

Over the summer, the most frequent question we heard was “How’s the library project coming?”  That was easy to answer (and the details are in last months APB).  The second most frequent question was, “Why does it cost so much?”   That’s not so easy to answer, but I’ll give it a try.

From the beginning, we’ve talked about remodeling the Julius Firehall for a new library.  That’s how the architect described it in his original plans: most of the outside walls and the slab would be maintained, although there would be a new roof and an entirely new inside.  The footprint was not expected to change.  People might reasonably think that the final cost is high for a remodeling job.

But, the original planning was 5 years ago and in the interim, a radar machine discovered that half of the slab would have to be replaced and the other half would need remediation.  The County decided that a new septic tank would be needed; we may need more parking places.  These have all increased the original estimate.

Five years of inflation have also increased the construction costs, especially.  Two years ago, our Whatcom County Executive told me we’d be lucky to get the project in then at under $325/square foot.  The current estimate is about $336.  There’s a lot of building going on in Whatcom County and further south, which has put considerable pressure on building costs even when overall inflation is not that high.

A public building project (and this library is a public building, owned by the Park and Recreation District) must be put out to competitive bid with the contract going to the lowest bidder.  That means the low bidder could be cutting all kinds of corners to increase his profits.  To counteract that inclination, the county has many requirements for public construction standards that are not imposed on private construction.  For a private job, the private owner looks out for his own interests; in a public project, the county looks out for the public whose money is financing the project.  That extra scrutiny increases costs, but minimizes the chance of shoddy construction.

And, finally, a public building is meant to last.  You build a home, you may expect to live in it for 20 years, but you’ll probably be doing a lot of maintenance, repair, and remodeling during that time.  A public building needs to last longer than a house.   The building materials need to be more durable and thus will be more expensive.  The Community Center has been around for 70 years and has had very little major work during that time (although some has been necessary over the past two years).  The new library will last, too.  Not forever, but long enough so that the community will not be needing to raise more money every 5 or 10 years to repair or replace elements.  

It’s part of our gift to the future: a library that lasts, as we have received from an earlier generation a Community Center that has lasted. 

—Judy Ross, Friends of the Point Roberts Library

From the All Point Bulletin, September 2016


The short answer: lots happening, but nothing that’s very visible. There are two strands, though.

First, the funding line.  The Friends have stopped actively raising funds, although we still receive and gratefully accept donations.  The Park and Recreation District has placed an “up-to-$300,000” levy on the November 8 ballot.  The reason for that “up-to” phrase is that by the time of the actual vote, we’ll have a much more solid idea of the actual costs.  But the best estimate now is that to move to construction, we’ll need no more and perhaps less than $300,000.  The total estimate also includes a 10% contingency, so the budget takes account of surprises.

The levy will set a one-time increase in property taxes of 51 cents/$1,000 of property assessment.  Thus, in 2017, owners of a property assessed at $200,000 will pay, one time, no more than $102.00.  And then, we’ll all get a brand new library.  Remember that no one is asking taxpayers to pay $840,000 for a new library.  The Friends have raised $540,000 in private donations from businesses, foundations, and individuals. So property taxes pay only about ⅓ of the costs.  If Bill Gates dropped by and offered to give us $540,000 to build a new library if property owners paid the final $300,000, we’d probably think, “that’s a good deal.”

Second, the construction line.  We have final design drawings and a final budget estimate.  We began the permitting process in July.  That is an ongoing process, but we are pleased to report that the County has accepted the current septic field, but will require a new septic tank.  That is a small cost increase; requiring a new field would be a much bigger increase, so we are pleased with that outcome.  In addition, we are not required to do any wetlands mitigation.  Further, it looks like the issue of additional parking spaces will be resolved in our favor. We expect the rest to go through pretty routinely, but with permitting you never know.  Stay tuned.

That’s what’s happening.  We’re working on a “Vote Yes on the Levy” campaign; the Park District will be getting ready for construction bidding.  It’s a big second stage.  We’re glad that you’ve been with us so far, and hope for your continued support.

Judy Ross
Friends of the Point Roberts Library

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