Citizens will be able to decide the fate of the old Woodinville Schoolhouse, as well as the price tag.
At last week’s meeting, the City Council narrowed the list of options for renovating the schoolhouse. In December, the city will conduct a phone survey of registered voters to see if they would be willing to vote for an April 2014 bond that would pay for the renovation.
Some council members said the project has become too expensive and favored abandoning it.
"When we started this two years ago, we were looking at a cost range of $3.5 million to $5.5 million. Now we’re at a minimum of $10 million dollars for everything, even without the parking," Mayor Bernie Talmas said. "So I would be in favor of just stopping this right now and turning it over to the private sector … If there’s private sector money for it, great. I’d be happy to go forward with it. But I don’t think we should be paying, the public should be paying, for this."
Councilmembers Les Rubstello and Art Pregler agreed, but Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen said the city already sought private developers and only found one who was interested. The price has risen, she said, because "we have padded it with so many things that are not appropriate for this project. Why would our tot lot that was originally part of our fields project be added to the old Woodinville Schoolhouse renovation? Why would a city hall remodel be added to the old schoolhouse renovation? Why would a courtyard in our Carol Edwards Center be added to the old schoolhouse renovation?"
The council decided that instead of halting the project, it would let citizens decide by voting on a bond that would finance the project.
The council narrowed the choices for the building down to two. A cultural center (with a black box theater, a pub or jazz club and a gallery or exhibit space) with a less historic interior would cost $6.7 million. A "max flex" option with a steel frame inside, which would allow the rooms to be configured differently but wouldn’t preserve the classrooms inside, would cost $6.8 million. That means the option of a wine incubator has been ruled out.
Specifying a use for the building and making it more flexible both have advantages, City Manager Richard Leahy said.
"The more specifically and certain that [the architects] know who the potential tenants are going to be, the easier it is for them to develop and redevelop the building," Leahy said. "...But it’s going to be a 50- to 75-year building. We don’t know who the tenants are going to be 50 years from now. In some cases, the staff feels there’s a lot of flexibility in the max flex structure because it’s flexible. But that may not be the decision the council and the community wants to make. We’re looking at it as a long-term investment of the community’s money, and our concern is to make sure it’s usable over a very, very long period of time."
All of the council members agreed the city needs more parking near the schoolhouse, and most agreed that the best option is sloped parking at ground level — the cheapest choice at $2.9 million. Fees, permits and required improvements to the surrounding area would add $2.1 million to the project.
"We need parking for this complex whether we ever renovate the schoolhouse, and that’s something that the city should take on, not our citizens as part of this project," Aspen said.
"... We’re always at a loss for parking, so that’s just something we need to do as a city."