Obstacles for aerospace training center planned for Paine Field

County Executive Aaron Reardon made a big splash a few weeks back announcing an empty building at Paine Field would become home for an aerospace training center to serve the state.

Since he and Linda Lanham of the Aerospace Futures Alliance celebrated the July 9 deal making the pro-business group the tenant, they’ve been silent on most aspects of the arrangement.

Maybe it’s because they’re concerned that as more specifics are known, excitement could lessen for the venture at this particular location.

One issue is the site’s contamination.

Reardon is making available a 30,000-square-foot facility that had been used for aerospace manufacturing operations for more than 40 years.

He didn’t mention publicly that hazardous materials are believed to be present in 60 percent of the property. The former building owner is in the process of getting it cleaned up. Until it’s done, much of the facility is off-limits.

What’s apparently usable is about 3,750 square feet of space that the alliance and Edmonds Community College envision fixing up for the teaching and training of students starting this fall.

Even before they can start making improvements, the county plans to test for lead, asbestos, mold and other possible contaminants to be sure it is safe for use.

Second is the matter of the financial arrangement. The county is expected to offer a two-year deal with options of additional years with a projected rent of $5,000 to $6,000 a month.

Except there probably won’t be any rent paid, for a while.

It will be charged, on paper, but nothing actually collected.

Instead the alliance will pay for the makeover needed to get the training center up and running. What it spends will be credited against what it owes in rent. In other words, every dollar spent on new carpet will be one less dollar they owe in rent.

Airport Director Dave Waggoner told council members this week that when the estimated cost of improvements is taken into account, it could be 2012 before any revenue is earned from the deal.

Apparently, such rental agreements are the modus operandi with airport tenants and it’s starting to get County Council members nervous.

They know Paine Field, which operates on a budget separate from the county’s, is losing money. They realize Reardon is relying on dwindling reserves to balance the budget.

“We’ve heard increasingly about the long-term fiscal problems the airport is going to have, and part of that is tied to deals like this,” Councilman Dave Gossett said to Waggoner at a meeting last week. “We’re getting a little concerned.”

It’s unclear if he and the rest of the County Council will be able to approve, reject or rewrite the agreement.

And if the opportunity arises, the council is unlikely to do anything but support Reardon’s plan. Three councilmen — Gossett, Dave Somers and John Koster — face re-election, and none of them want to do anything perceived as anti-aerospace, a core industry for the county.

While the council may have no say, this Wednesday the Aerospace Futures Alliance Board of Directors will get theirs. Directors will meet in Kent to discuss and consider endorsing the lease.

If they give a thumbs-up, expect Reardon and Lanham to end their silence with a triumphant blast.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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