[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The B-Town Blog, nor its staff:]

Dear Editor,

Mr. Wilson states that the decision to close the Burien Annex was “necessary in order to ensure the safety of the tenants, children, staff, and visitors of the buildings, now and in the future”. He states that he has a “fiduciary responsibility to manage the risk and liability to the City”. The reader will please notice that nowhere in Mr. Wilson’s letter to the editor does he take responsibility for the decision to close the Annex. Nor does he fully acknowledge his part in the many factors that led to the decision to close the Annex 2 years in the making; factors explicitly known to city staff since 2017, including the presence of asbestos and lead in the Annex, which is not uncommon in our region.

For example, on November 6, 2017 Steve Roemer, then PaRCS Director, along with Tom Beckwith of Beckwith Consulting Group introduced the draft 2018 Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan. During this meeting Mr. Beckwith states about the Annex that the City is “going to need to start spending money to keep [the Annex] usable” with the caveat being “that’s not money that you’re going to recapture”. Mr. Beckwith goes on to state “you’ve got kind of a ticking time bomb as to how long you can last [in the Annex].”(References 1 & 2)

In his letter to the editor, Mr. Wilson acknowledges that there have been many questions regarding the MENG Analysis report and how this was different from previous reports; however, he does not squarely answer this question in his letter. Mr. Wilson simply states that the MENG report provides costs for addressing the issues.  These costs appear to be inflated and above market rate for many of the suggested items. I consider the question about how the MENG Analysis evaluation is different from others unanswered.  This is a question that many of us still would like to have addressed. An additional question regarding the MENG Analysis report is why testing was not completed before the City rushed to close the Annex? Especially considering the cost for testing was already covered in contract with MENG.

Mr. Wilson states that as part of the 2019-2020 budget process, a long-range financial plan was established for the City to ensure the sustainability of services and to identify potential funding options for a new community center. Presumably he is referencing Resolution 397, adopting the 2018 PROS Plan. (Reference 3) The PROS Plan also recommends under Task 12,

“PaRCS and other public, nonprofit, and private agencies will conduct progress assessments reviewing action on the projects and programs identified above and improve methods, assign responsibilities, or take other measures necessary to ensure effective implementation.” (pages 9 & 10):

This is a critical missed step by City staff. The end result of this whole Annex situation in no way resembles “effective implementation.” All of the nonprofits were blindsided by the news that their leases would not be renewed on December 9, 2019. Mr. Wilson and current Councilmembers were concerned that testing for lead and asbestos would result in an immediate red tag, recently. A slip in semantics at the December 16, 2019 Council meeting delayed testing for 3 weeks in in lieu of providing immediate answers to the nonprofits most affected by this issue. This delay has effectively nullified the 30 day extension for these nonprofits extending their must leave date to January 31st as many of the non-profits had no choice but to start packing. This does not sound to me like anything approximating Task 12 as listed above.

We now know that the direction by the Council on December 16th to explore the cost of testing was irrelevant as the cost for testing was included in the original contract with MENG Analysis.  Furthermore, many of us following this situation closely have been unable to confirm that MENG Analysis is, or will use, a state certified laboratory for testing, which is what we understand to be a requirement to obtaining pollution insurance.

Mr. Wilson goes on to state that the Council provided direction to explore the hiring of a consultant, approved an assessment of the Annex, and subsequently approved the hiring of MENG Analysis to conduct the evaluation. What he does not do is take responsibility for his part in initiating this process. On August 5, 2019 during a Burien City Council Special & Regular Business Meeting, city staff recommended to the Council that they add the assessment of the usability and functionality of the Annex to the future Business Agenda prior to initiating community engagement for a potential new community center, contrary to Task 12. (Reference 4)

Per the October 21, 2019 City Council Regular Business Meeting Agenda Bill, between August and October 2019, city staff requested quotes from 5 firms for a usability/functionality assessment. Two of five firms responded and were interviewed and evaluated. MENG was recommended to the Council as deemed the most qualified. (Reference 5)

On October 21, 2019 Casey Stanley, Interim PaRCS Director, requested approval to move forward with executing a $44,000.00 contract with MENG Analysis. The Council motioned to approve the analysis but only after checking with the City’s insurance provider to see if they could perform an inspection of long-term operability of the Annex. (Reference 6) The October 21, 2019 meeting documents the motion to include “explor[ing] opportunities with the City’s insurance company for alternative funding” (Reference 7). Inquiring minds would like to know if the City’s insurance provider was ever consulted per Council’s direction. Is it possible that the City’s insurance provider could have advised City staff of the potential ramifications of moving forward with the proposed analysis?  Maybe our non-profits could have been afforded more time to contribute to their relocation and “improve methods, assign responsibilities, or take other measures necessary to ensure effective implementation” as was directed in 2018 in Task 12. 

Of additional interest, during the October 21, 2019 public comments period, Paul Gould addressed the Council on behalf of Burien Actors Theatre, requesting that the non-profits lease holders in the Annex Building be consulted in the decision making process that is involved with that facility. Very insightful of Mr. Gould to ask for this communication from the City; it is unfortunate that the City staff did not follow through with his request.

Again, Mr. Wilson states that various studies and plans concerning the Annex have been conducted by the City since 2005. He states that MENG Analysis report provided the most comprehensive evaluation of the Annex’s condition. Let’s take a look at some of the key concerns in the MENG report:

MENG REPORT 2019 (Reference 8):

    • Probable likelihood of containing asbestos.
    • Old plumbing and piping with lead and other toxins likely present – drinking fountains labeled as not fit for human consumption. (my note: this statement  assumes prior knowledge)
    • Seismic reinforcements on the masonry chimney are failing with one anchor completely detached from the structure.
    • The majority of the facility does not have fire sprinklers which would help reduce the risk of fire.

Now let’s take a look at the 2018 PROS PLAN Condition Assessment drafted in 2017 (Reference 9, page 3):

    • Contains asbestos
    • Has decaying septic system and collapsing clay pipes
    • Does not meet seismic requirements
    • The wood frame facility has deteriorated significantly
    • Lacks fire sprinklers;
    • Does not meet ADA requirements
    • Facility has outlived its physical and economic life and needs to be replaced

These are virtually the same findings, 2 years apart.

The 2019 MENG Analysis report also states on page 3, “Water is reportedly unfit for human consumption due to lead, with drinking fountains labeled “out of service” hence bottled water is in use.” The report goes on to state on page 4, “Existence of lead pipes, leading to drinking fountains being labeled as not fit for human consumption.” The report states that renovations in 1994 “appears to have included upgrading entrance systems for ADA, renovating restrooms with ADA toilet stalls, abatement of asbestos in the auditorium windows, and possibly some asbestos pipe wrap abatement.” These admissions by the 2019 MENG report suggest prior knowledge of issues that would have been known to City staff and refute Mr. Wilson’s premises that the decision to close the Annex was based on “new” knowledge from MENG’s December 2, 2019 verbal report.

Mr. Wilson indicates that he consulted with the City’s insurance provider, Washington Cities Insurance Authority and was advised to take immediate action to inform the tenants that the City did not intend to renew their leases. That action formally took place on December 9, 2019, a week later. Mr. Wilson states he consulted with other insurance providers, including an insurance provider I recommended, to address the pollution exclusion in the City’s existing policy.

My insurance broker, Ted R. Hentschell, Vice President of Hentschell & Associates, Inc. wrote to the city Council on December 27, 2019 stating, 

“I am writing today about insuring the Annex building in Burien. Based on my review this building is 100% insurable. I have reviewed the reports and in my 25 year insurance experience I see NOTHING that is a major issue with this building. Mr. John White is a long time trusted client and he is absolutely correct, my firm can have a policy ready on this building within 15 days.” (Page 59 of Reference 9):

With the assistance of Mr. Hentschell, as of January 3, 2020, Erik Lindquist, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Facilities Inc., states that:

“Unless there’s something about the situation that I’m missing we should be able to place premises pollution liability that would provide coverage for BI & PD resulting from pollution conditions involving pollutants as defined in the policy and including; mold, asbestos, lead, legionella, etc.” (Private Correspondence)

The City has since been provided with an application for pollution insurance.

Mr. Wilson touts the Annex Tenant Support Team as coordinating efforts, having ongoing contact with organization, spending hours contacting property owners who may have available space. To my knowledge, there has not been a single permanent placement for any of the nonprofits other than Journey Arts and Craft. And these nonprofits have spent hundreds of volunteer hours toward their own efforts.

Mr. Wilson states he will be presenting options for supporting the tenants through this transition to Council on January 6, 2020. The only options that I see listed on the January 6, 2020 agenda is:

      1. Confirm a January 31, 2020 vacation date.
      2. Allowing the preschool to keep their outside play equipment in place for three (3) months.
      3. Allow three (3) 8×20 storage boxes on the Annex premises for six (6) months.
      4. Offer to pay the former tenants of the Annex $234,428.00
      5. Alternate direction from the Council.

The City is stipulating that,

“Financial support to these organizations will require a waiver and hold harmless for claims against the city.” (Page 61 of Reference 10)

In other words, the city is offering to pay the former tenants of the Annex $234,428.00 in exchange for their silence; a waiver of liability for losses, damages, or other legal issues. I would be interested to know if the Burien Preschool Cooperative or Para Los Niños could technically waive the rights of minors unilaterally. (See SPR RULE 98.16W)

Unfortunately, Mr. Wilson does not include mitigation as one of his proposed options.  Despite any possible problems with the Annex the building can be remediated and this should be seriously considered.

All I am asking is for accuracy and transparency from the City of Burien. If I have misstated or misspoke on any of the above issues, please correct me. I am not interested in political hyperbole. My only interest is making sure that the fabric of our city, these 7 essential nonprofits, does not go the way of the wind.

Sincerely,

John L. White, EMBA

  1. Link to Video of the November 6, 2017 Regular Meeting Presentation (starts at the 03:18:10 minute mark):

https://burien.vod.castus.tv/vod/?video=39dd4044-a93b-4883-ac5f-22de3f662583&nav=programs%2F2017%20City%20Council

  1. Link to the November 6, 2017 Regular Meeting Minutes: https://burienwa.civicweb.net/filepro/documents/8073?preview=8082
  2. Link to Resolution 397, adopting the 2018 PROS Plan:

https://burienwa.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_11045935/File/Residents/Buriens%20Vision/Parks,%20Recreation%20and%20Open%20Space%20Plan/2018%20PROS%20plan/Resolution%20397%20-%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

  1. Link to August 5, 2019 Council Meeting Minutes:

https://burienwa.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Id=341

  1. Link to October 21, 2019 Agenda Bill:

https://burienwa.civicweb.net/document/30024/Discussion%20and%20Potential%20Action%20for%20Proposed%20As.pdf?handle=4FC66363619B426EAEC52D054FFFE261

  1. Link to Video of the October 21, 2019 Council Meeting (Starting at 04:07.55):https://burien.vod.castus.tv/vod/?video=264d8d85-1118-4b24-83c8-48495aa18cff&nav=programs%2F2019%20City%20Council
  2. Link to October 21, 2019 Council Meeting Minutes (Page 6, Item F.): https://burienwa.civicweb.net/document/31049
  3. Link to MENG Facility Condition Report:

https://burienwa.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_11045935/File/Residents/Parks,%20Recreation%20&%20Cultural%20Services/Park%20&%20Facility%20Improvement%20Projects/Final%20FCA%20Report%20-%20Annex.pdf

  1. Link to 2018 PROS Report Exhibits:

https://burienwa.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_11045935/File/Residents/Buriens%20Vision/Parks,%20Recreation%20and%20Open%20Space%20Plan/2018%20PROS%20plan/Chapter%205%20-%20Park%20Plan%20Exhibits.pdf

  1. Link to January 6th City Council Packet:

https://burienwa.civicweb.net/document/32834 

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