Yelm Community Center Almost Ready for Action

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It’s almost five months behind schedule, but the finish line is in sight: Yelm’s new community center is almost complete.

The contractor took longer to complete the project than expected. Yelm Mayor Ron Harding wouldn’t comment on why exactly the contractor experienced delays.

“I won’t comment on what’s going on with the contractor, but they took longer than the original contract,” he said. “You know, it’s not entirely uncommon with these types of facilities but you know at least from our standpoint, we think they could have been a little faster. I don’t want to critique them, but certainly they took longer than we anticipated that they would. But they’re moving forward and checking those items off, so as long as they get them done.” 

Layout

The building, located at 301 Second St. SE, is about 4,934 square feet total, and includes an approximately 3,600-square-foot multipurpose space rated to hold 399 people. When tables and chairs are added to the space, the capacity will be somewhere around 200-250 people, Harding said.

“We’ll get a better idea once we get some tables in and actually start configuring them for the best seating capacity, but certainly for this area (Yelm) there’s not a lot of places where you could have an event for a couple hundred-plus people,” he said. “So we’re just hoping it’s well received and people do use it.”

A folding wall gives users the option of dividing the multipurpose space in half, forming two rooms. A sound system has been wired into the building, and each of the two rooms will have its own drop-down video screen.

The center includes two small closets for incidentals; storage of larger items, such as the tables and chairs, will be in the park’s former restroom building, which will be remodeled for storage. The community center includes outdoor restrooms for park users, so the old restrooms will no longer be needed, Harding said.

The decision to not include that storage space in the building itself was to maximize the space while staying within the city’s budget.

To stay within the budget, the city had to keep the building less than 5,000 square feet, Harding said. If it went over, under the grant requirements, the building would have needed to be LEED-certified (a standard for green building design), which would have made the project more expensive, he said.

The center boasts a commercial kitchen, with a window opening up into the multipurpose center, and another opening up into the park.

The intent was to design a kitchen that could be used as easily for community events, such as a food booth at Prairie Days, as for a banquet.

“A lot of thought went into what appliances we were going to have and how they were going to be placed and I think they did a pretty good job of making somewhat of a commercial kitchen, but doing it in a way that was user-friendly and easy to operate,” Harding said.

The kitchen could also possibly be rented by startup food businesses who may need an approved commercial kitchen under state health regulations, he added. 

Yelm City Park’s Future

The design of the new community center keeps future expansion in mind, Harding said.

When voters rejected the park bond that the city twice put on the ballot, the city had to scrap the plans it had for the park, which included a military monument, a spray park, and a larger community center.

It’s possible, however, that if the city is diligent about applying for and receiving grants, it could implement many of the items in that park plan without costing taxpayers a penny, Harding said.

“Eventually, we’ve got some more work to do here in city park,” Harding said. “This is our oldest park in the city and it’s time for a facelift. And it’s time for us to put some of the amenities in that our community now wants. Our community’s changing, and so, amenities change, just like everything else.”

The original design for the community center building — if the bond had passed — included space for classrooms that could have been used in cooperation with South Puget Sound Community College to hold continuing classes in Yelm.

There’s space next to the newly-built center where an additional building, with classroom space, could be built when future funds become available, Harding said.

“We’ve been working with SPSCC on a long-term plan to perhaps build a separate building for that type of activity,” he said.

The master plan for the park also included sidewalks connecting the Yelm-Tenino Trail, the skatepark, Yelm City Park, and Cochrane Park, Harding said.

“It was to create that walkability in that downtown core and that connection between the amenities and our local city services,” he said.

Another thing the city would like to upgrade at some point is the playground equipment at Yelm City Park, Harding said.

The equipment is old and can’t accommodate people with physical disabilities, which newer equipment — such as the playground equipment at Longmire Park — is able to do.

“We’re always looking for … (opportunities to receive grants) to be able to bring those features to the community,” Harding said. “One of the things I told folks in the community when the capital bond failed — especially folks who were highly interested in the park having some sort of an amenity upgrade — is we’ll continue to look for grant opportunities and money that will allow us to do those things. … We had the majority of the community that really supported some of those features. What we heard from a lot of the folks that didn’t support it was they just didn’t feel like they wanted to take on that additional tax burden.”

Spray Park vs. Pool

“One of the things we heard from a lot of folks was that they wanted a pool,” Harding said. “We hear that constantly: ‘We want a pool, we want a pool.’ We’ve looked at the costs associated with those and the cost to operate them, and there would have to be some other additional funding mechanism to make that a reality, much more than just capital.”

Specifically, the city has to consider the ongoing operations and maintenance costs associated with pools.

“I think from the city’s perspective we’d like to see those conversations spurred by a grassroots group versus from the city, because they are very expensive ventures,” Harding said. “Our idea at the planning stage for the park was to look for low-cost alternatives the city could do either through local dollars or through grants that would give some immediate amenity to the community — perhaps not the end-goal, but something that would fill in the gap until we were able to either afford or grow into the end-goal.

“And that’s where we developed the spray park idea. We looked at a lot of other communities and a lot of other communities were transitioning from pools to spray parks, mainly because of the sustainability of them versus a pool. And so we thought that would be a great first step that could be low-cost to the community.”

Building a spray park would cost around $250,000, and the operating and maintenance costs per year would be around $30,000, Harding said. In contrast, building a pool would cost several million dollars, and the operating and maintenance costs could be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, he said.

The Briggs branch of the YMCA in Olympia, for example, has an operations and maintenance cost of around $4.5 million per year, Harding said

“Well, that exceeds the city’s entire budget,” he said. “And so, those amenities are really intended for ... larger population centers. But if a community is willing to pay for those, obviously it’s always an option. I think our direction was really trying to look for something that we could do immediately that would be sustainable, that would carry us through a point in time, and then we could actually bring something like that (a pool) forward.”

Finalizing Rates, Rules

People will be able to rent out the community center, and the city is finalizing rental rates and rules for people using the facility.

Harding said the rates and rules are still in their draft form, and will be discussed by the city council at its study session later this month.

The draft rates and rules are modeled after those of the Lacey Community Center, Harding said.

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