[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:]
Last month, I was faced with one of the most difficult circumstances in my time as Burien’s city manager. The decision to close the Burien Annex was not an easy one, but was necessary in order to ensure the safety of the tenants, children, staff, and visitors of the buildings, now and in the future. I also have a fiduciary responsibility to manage the risk and liability to the City.
There have been many questions asking why the City evaluated the condition of the Burien Community Center Annex and how this evaluation was different from previous reports.
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. Council provided direction to explore the hiring of a consultant to initiate community engagement for a Community Center.
Council approved an assessment of the Annex buildings as an initial step prior to community engagement for a new community center. The City hired, with approval from Burien City Council, MENG Analysis to conduct an evaluation of the Annex.
While various studies and plans concerning the Annex have been conducted by the City since 2005, the MENG Analysis report provided the most comprehensive evaluation of the facility’s condition. Planning for a new community center took place in 2008, but did not move forward based on costs and the economic recession. Several PaRCS PROS plans, including the latest in 2018, summarized the condition of the Annex as well. However, none of these reports presented the detailed information the City needed to establish a plan for the long-term maintenance and operation of the building.
MENG Analysis provided a verbal report on December 2, 2019 and presented significant information regarding the condition of the building which produced critical risk and insurance concerns. We consulted with our insurance provider, Washington Cities Insurance Authority, which provides insurance for most of the municipalities in Washington state, and we were advised to take immediate action to inform the tenants that the City did not intend to renew the leases all of which expired on December 31, 2019, and to vacate the building as soon as practicable. We met with each tenant in person on December 9, 2019 to inform them that their leases would not be renewed and that the building would need to be vacated by January 31, 2020. There were no lease renewal provisions contained in the tenant leases.
Since that date, I have consulted with other insurance providers, including an insurance provider recommended by one of Burien’s citizens. I informed the insurance providers of the “pollution exclusion” within the City’s existing WCIA policy and asked the providers whether they insure against lead, asbestos, and mold within the Annex. I’ve specifically requested of these providers the cost of coverage to address these risks to the City that might arise from tenants, the general public, and children being present in the building. To date, no pollution coverage has been identified or made available.
I want to ensure residents that the City of Burien recognizes the immense value these organizations provide to the community. That is why the day after we received the verbal report from MENG Analysis, I directed my staff to assemble an Annex Tenant Support Team. The team has met several times in the past few weeks to coordinate efforts, and has had ongoing contact with individuals from each of the organizations affected by the Annex closure to assess their needs and find a new home for these important Burien organizations. They have spent hours contacting property owners who may have available space, touring the organizations through potential new locations, networking with community groups and residents who may be able to offer assistance, and are in active communications with funders who may be able to provide some financial assistance through grants. While there has been progress on finding both short-term and long-term locations for some of the organizations, much more work will be needed to connect them to the resources they need to continue their vital services for the Burien community. Our goal is ensure the sustainability of the nonprofit tenants (during the transition and for the long term) with support and assistance.
I will be presenting options for supporting the tenants through this transition to Council on January 6, 2020.
– Brian J. Wilson
Burien City Manager
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