Everett utility rate increase would pay for $70M buildings

EVERETT — Dave Davis recalls starting off with the Everett Public Works Department 37 years ago.

His office was, and still is, in what’s known as the Service Center building (or just “Building One”) on Cedar Street, a 1970s-era edifice of 30-foot-tall concrete panels mounted on concrete pillars.

As time went on, Davis said, “there was this ever-increasing chatter that if there was a major earthquake, be the first one out the door.”

Otherwise, you might not make it out at all, he said.

Now the public works director for the city, Davis has gone from once envisioning how he would use a chair to knock out a window to escape, to planning for the construction of a new building strong enough to withstand The Big One.

It’s all part of the so-called Service Center Redevelopment Project, a $70 million effort that will see the demolition of six buildings and construction of five new ones on the same two lots straddling Cedar Street.

The project would be paid for with a combination of utility rate hikes, capital bonds backed by utility revenues, sales of perhaps half a dozen city-owned pieces of land, and about $10 million in the city’s capital reserve fund.

The exact amount utility bills would go up has not been determined and would have to go before the City Council, and in the end probably would be on the same level as those paying for other large projects, such as the “Sewer M” or Grand Avenue Park Bridge projects, Davis said.

Utility rates rose July 1, 2015, and Jan. 1, 2016, to pay for those projects, with single-family homes now being charged $106.34 per month. The city also is installing water meters, putting an end to flat-rate water service, and rates are expected to continue to rise under the city’s 10-year sewer plan.

“It’s not lost on us at all, the public can only support so much,” he added.

Public Works spokeswoman Kathleen Baxter emphasized that Everett’s monthly rates are still below the median for the state.

The new office building to house the administrative offices of the department will be up to modern earthquake-resistant standards and then some: it is planned to house the city’s emergency operations center. In the event of a major disaster, the city staff will have to be able to continue working through it.

As it is, the current buildings are showing their age.

The Service Center’s masonry is cracked and patched in many locations, some of it damage from the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. The HVAC system has been pieced together over the years, and a sign next to the elevator warns riders that it starts with a jerk. “Do not be alarmed. It’s a common complaint of this model but is perfectly safe,” it reads.

The project is still in the early design stages, which are expected to last through the year and into 2017.

Along the way, there will be numerous checks and permits required, both from the City Council and from the state Capital Projects Advisory Review Board.

The council will likely take up an extension of the contract of its design contractor, DLR Group of Seattle, in the coming weeks, and its budget committee will discuss it at Wednesday’s meeting.

All the steps are required because this is a highly complicated project: 260 employees of the department will have to continue working on site as their offices are relocated and buildings are torn down, and the city will have to maintain parking for their personal cars in addition to 160 city-owned fleet vehicles.

The entire project is expected to last up to three years.

First up, according to the preliminary plans, will be the demolition of three buildings on the east side of Cedar Street, including the 1934 Mission Revival-style Annex building, also known as the Creamery, because of a former dairy operation that used to operate there.

The Creamery has been heavily altered over the years, doesn’t have much historical value and isn’t on any preservation lists, said David Dilgard, a historian at the Everett Public Library.

Like the other Public Works buildings, it’s also structurally not up to par.

“It’s a shame to lose it, but you’ve got to sacrifice a few,” Dilgard said.

Davis said the need for a massive project became clear after he and other city officials attended an emergency management conference hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2010.

The realization that they would have to keep functioning during and after a major disaster — “because we are the rebuilding agency,” Davis said — led them to analyze the state of their buildings.

In turned out that just anchoring the walls and ceiling of the current buildings was almost as expensive as tearing down and starting over. In the case of “Building 4,” a shop building, it was more expensive than demolishing it.

Structural retrofitting also wouldn’t include replacing the wonky elevator or aging HVAC system, or anything other than just making sure the building wouldn’t fall over in a quake.

“That was pretty sobering,” Davis said.

If the city keeps to its schedule, construction bids are expected to be solicited next summer, with the first demolition starting in the fall.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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