Last-minute action in Olympia closes gap
By Don Nelson
If you knew where to look in the massive state capital budget passed by the Legislature — specifically, page 64, line 15 of Substitute House Bill 1080 as amended by the Senate — you would have come across this entry: Twisp Civic Center: $1,500,000.
The unexpected last-minute appropriation, facilitated by 12th District State Rep. Mike Steele, essentially completes the necessary funding to build the town’s new civic building and regional communications center.
In basketball terms, that single line item was like sinking a game-winning, three-point shot from half court at the buzzer.
A jubilant Mayor Soo Ing-Moody confirmed this week that the funds are part of the capital budget, and will cover a $1.5 million construction funding gap for the new building.
“These funds in the capital budget were critical to the project,” Ing-Moody said in an interview. “We now have all the money we need, based on the latest [construction] bid, to ensure that the project is whole.”
The Twisp civic building funding was not in the first version of the capital budget, Ing-Moody said. She credited Steele with shepherding Twisp’s urgent request through the legislative process as it drew to a close.
“He really worked hard on behalf of our community,” the mayor said of Steele. “I’m so grateful that the Legislature saw the value of this project … it was an answer to our prayers.”
Ing-Moody said the request to the Legislature for “emergency” capital funding cited soaring construction costs, largely COVID-related, that had outstripped original cost estimates for the civic building.
Ing-Moody said the support for the emergency communications element of the new building by other governments and agencies in the region was also helpful. She said that the availability of a regional emergency communications center “mitigates against future costs” by making preparedness and response more effective. “The ability to coordinate our community emergency responses is critical,” she said.
“It really takes all of us,” Ing-Moody said. “We can’t work isolated in a vacuum.”
“I have a lot of thank you cards to write,” Ing-Moody added.
The news about the capital budget, which was passed unanimously by the Senate on April 23 and the House on April 24, happened so quickly that Ing-Moody was still processing the information early this week.
Only last Tuesday (April 20), the Twisp Town Council had given final approval to apply for a loan of up to $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development program to cover the construction funding gap for the civic building. Earlier, the USDA loan request had been set at $1.5 million. At last week’s council meeting, Ing-Moody said the reduced $1.2 million request to the USDA “will suffice for us.”
The USDA loan was intended to augment the $3 million-plus the town already has available for the building’s construction.
Construction bids, which were opened on Feb. 24, came in higher than the projected cost of about $2.835 million. The lowest bid of the three submitted was $3.587 million by Leone & Keeble of Spokane.
The USDA had been processing the necessary paperwork for the loan since the council agreed at its March 30 meeting to award a construction contract for the new building, contingent on approval of the federal loan. The council accepted the bid by Leone & Keeble to construct the new building on the same site as the existing town hall, which will be demolished. Sales tax, contingency funds, management and other related expenses bring the total project costs to about $4.7 million.
The town’s available funds include earlier state capital budget appropriations of a little more than $2 million, a state Department of Commerce community development block grant of $750,000, and town reserve funds that have accumulated toward the project.
Ing-Moody has said the USDA loan was always viewed as a “stopgap measure” to ensure that enough funds would be in hand to start and complete the new building’s construction. She said earlier that the town would continue to look for other funding sources to either eliminate or mitigate the need for the USDA loan. Hence, the overture to Steele and the Legislature.
Even with the capital budget allotment, the USDA loan funds could still be available if needed, Ing-Moody said. There is no penalty to the town if it does not make use of the loan, she said.
The town has been struggling to match resources with projected costs, even with the state capital funds allocated in previous years, for the past year.
In May 2020, the first round of construction bids for the new building came in about $1 million higher than the $3 million cost estimated at the time by Architects West, the Idaho-based firm that is designing the facility. That caused construction on the project, which was expected to begin last summer, to be postponed to this year.
For most of the past year, Public Works Director Andrew Denham and his staff have been “value engineering” the building’s specs to bring costs down. Even with those efforts, the second set of bids the town received in February still exceeded the town’s projections and budget.
Plans to replace the building began to take shape in 2011, after repairs to a leaky roof brought other problems to light.
The town discovered that the 70-year-old former fire hall had hollow perimeter walls, after which the town reinforced them with concrete. The building also lacks ventilation; has inefficient heating and cooling systems; lacks storage for public records; has limited access for disabled persons; and has no emergency exit from the council chambers, which also house the municipal court.
The wildfire disaster and subsequent power and communications outages in 2014 also made clear the need for a building that could serve as a command center during future emergencies, town officials concluded.
The new one-story building was determined to need more square footage than the current town hall. To make room for construction of the new civic building, the Twisp Council approved vacating a portion of Third Avenue.
The mayor said demolition of the old town hall could begin in a matter of weeks. A few weeks ago, the town’s offices moved into temporary quarters at 110 E. Second Ave. — former site of the Family Health Centers dental clinic. Phone and email contacts remain the same for all staff and elected officials. Office hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For information, visit www.townoftwisp.com or call 997-4081.