The Yelm City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 13, voted to approve Mayor JW Foster entering a $134,641 contract with BCRA Design to prepare a conceptual design and cost estimate for a proposed educational center and business incubator to be built on the corner of Third Street and Washington Street.
The study, which is being paid for exclusively through state legislative funding the city received during the 2019 session, was passed 5-1 by the council during a regular business meeting, with council member James Blair absent for the vote.
Community Development Director Grant Beck said the study also includes stakeholder discussions with organizations looking to occupy the building. It’s been suggested that South Puget Sound Community College and a business incubator program occupy the facility, though no final decisions have been made.
Beck, who said the project has been in discussion since 2005, added that it would be advantageous to host SPSCC within the new building.
“They have significant sources of funding available to them that we don’t have access to. If it turns out they are one of the stakeholders, it actually opens up a lot of funding opportunities for it,” he said.
The public will also have a say on who occupies the building, as the city and BCRA plan on hosting multiple meetings with the community to gain feedback.
Council member Tad Stillwell said that while the study is very much worth pursuing, the city should move with caution as they approach the decision on whether or not they ultimately build the structure.
The study is expected to take about six to eight months to complete.
Council member Joe DePinto, who was the lone dissenting vote on the contract, said the action “draws red flags” especially so soon after the city made a purchase on its current city hall and the property.
“Regardless, I do believe this is going to cost us a lot of money, and for a study to show us it’s going to cost us a lot of money, I urge council to show some restraint here,” he said. “This is a big ask, I believe.”
In a followup interview with the Nisqually Valley News, DePinto, an overall opponent of the project, added that he feels there hasn’t been enough feedback from the community at this point to continue with the project.
“When they went out for this, personally, I feel that there wasn’t as much transparency,” he said. “This just sets the wheels in motion to go through with it.”
He also said that while he can understand the city using the legislative funds that have already been awarded, it’s dangerous to move on with the project, especially with the long term financial health of the city in question due to the coronavirus recession.
Leaders with SPSCC in recent years have voiced support for building a satellite campus in Yelm, and according to Beck they are in support of Yelm pursuing a space to serve rural Thurston and Pierce county residents.
The city has also planned to include a business incubator that would allow a program to work on economic development opportunities and initiatives in the space.
According to the city’s 2019 application to the Legislature, City Administrator Michael Grayum wrote that the project would bring higher education opportunities to the area, and also benefit local parents, students and businesses who rely on an educated workforce.
The site is about 18,000 square feet, and the city is currently envisioning a multi-story, mixed-use building.