By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council at their Monday night (April 27, 2020) study session wrestled with but did not take final action on whether to seek the vacation of the of the Annex building because of serious structural and safety problems.

Carolyn Hope, new director of Recreation and Cultural Services, told Council the Community Annex Building was slated to be closed on July 31, although several groups and individuals have actively sought to have he building remain in use beyond that date.

School, non-profit use
Hope reminded Council that the Annex was a former elementary school that before incorporation of Burien as a city was used by King County as a community center, and when Burien incorporated it took over the building and continued its use. She said that both the county and the city have for years leased parts of the building to non-profit groups, even as it remained a community center. In 2010 the city acquired the library across the street and remodeled it into the current Burien Community Center.

Discussions continued, said Hope, on the potential of a community center that wasn’t met by the building containing such functions as a fitness center and a gymnasium.

Building options
She said the Council agenda of the meeting was to discuss options for the building, whether and how it would be closed and how to pay for the closure. Two options were offered by city staff, one was to hire a contractor to “demolish the building and the underground utilities, rough grade the area and plant grass.”

The other option, said Hope, was that the city would manage the “building by boarding up windows and doors, fencing the outside of the building, enhancing the physical and manual security systems, continuing with pest control, fire protection systems, and the provision of some utilities to the building.

“This option would provide time for the community to prioritize ultimate use of the building and site.”

Close or fix
In 2019 Hope said the Council decided to close the building as of Jan. 31, 2020. In January the City Council decided to extend the closure date to July 31, 2020, and provided $25,000 to fix immediate problems.

Hope said “desired outcomes” would be that tenants get relocated to “new homes that meet their needs,” and said the Annex “is maintained as a safe, clean public place for park users and neighbors” and that the Burien community “understand why the Annex is closed and the process for determining the future of the property.”

An assessment of the Annex condition, she said, shows the “systems at end of life,” that “repairs may trigger complete code upgrade,” that portions of the Annex “are likely to contain hazardous materials” and it may not be possible to bring the building up to current seismic codes.

Cost estimates by an engineering company are “$10.8 million for a complete renovation and $11.4 for a new structure of the same specifications,” Hope said.

No adequate coverage
Burien City Attorney Garmon Newsom noted the risks of the building are hazardous materials, structural concerns and “other system failures.” He noted the city’s insurance carrier has recommended closing the Annex “due to liability risk” and the city could not get “adequate coverage to address hazardous materials.”

“We are no longer in a position to say we were unaware,” Newsom said. “Now that we are aware that these things exist, we gave an obligation to make sure that we don’t allow someone to be injured, harmed, etc., as a result these existing liabilities.”

Studies earlier did find lead in drinking water and replaced faucets, then “water was tested at safe levels,” said Hope. Asbestos materials were confirmed to be in floor ties and mastic in “several places in both buildings.” Also that the Annex has “an ongoing interior fungal reservoir.”

Repairs to many areas of damage or fungal problems have been made, Hope said, as well as city staff fixed several other problems discovered in recent weeks.

She said there are two options city staff wishes the Council to consider: One is to demolish the Annex or “secure the building,” — close it and leave it for now which “preserves the building in current state. That would mean a risk of vandalism and “site aesthetics will be poor.”

Police risks
Leaving a building closed is a risk, said Burien Police Chief Ted Boe.

“Putting up a fence around this building or putting up cameras around this building is still going to created an attractive nuisance” that will require police actions, such as vandalism, break ins, or area loitering. He also said that having a building just left vacant will have a negative affect in the area.

Hope said the city already has continuing problems at the Annex, such as windows broken, a fire, “it’s not an ‘if’ question, it’s a ‘when’ question.”

She said it would cost the city $350,000 to demolish the Annex or $500,000 to secure the structure for three years.

Open or closed
Councilmember Kevin Schilling said that he feels the staff gave just two options, “one that looks good and one that looks absolutely terrible and that seems purposeful to me.” He said he would like to see longtime tenants of the site involved in the process of determining the future of the property. “I’d like that to be a collaborative conversation between tenants who have used that space for years, as well as the parks board and other community members.”

Scott Gifford, president of Burien Actors Theatre board, said “I want to encourage your to consider option three, the option we presented,” adding that his group is “really supportive of the efforts to build a new facility, we’d like to be a part of it. However, in the interim, what we’d really like is to keep the building open.” he said a “potentially bad recession and things are going to be tough.” He said the end of the life of that building “is near, we just don’t think it has to be that soon.”

Gifford said his group can take over the parts already vacated and pay the rent so the city does not lose any revenue.

Former Burien Mayor Sally Nelson said the Council “has an important decision” that affects many who have tried but been unable to find a new location. “What we do know is we have nowhere to go” and Transform Burien provides “services that mean food or no food for many families. The preschool that provides low income families a creative educational environment is more needed now than ever. The arts of all kind may seem like a luxury, but if you check the vision statement arts have always been included in creating a vibrant city.” Nelson said a vibrant city brings outsiders to Burien.

“Tearing down the building now with no plan for the future is wrong. Let’s stay the course, bring it together” urging the Annex to be preserved for now.