News from Councilmember Randy Corman, your Renton City Hall insider. (All views expressed in journal entries are Randy Corman's personal views, and not the official position of the City of Renton or other city employees. Views expressed in reader comments are those of the commenter)

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Croquet at Renton’s Riverview Park; showing off my granddaughter

Croquet at Renton’s Riverview Park; showing off my granddaughter

My granddaughter is getting bigger. Here she is at our 11-acre “Riverview Park,” (a few hundred feet from Cedar River) ready to challenge me to a game of croquet.

Now that the library election is behind us, I plan to mix up my blog entries with more varied topics. Next up…trees!

Last night’s council meeting; 3-minute speaker time-limit reversed and sent back to Committee of the Whole

Last night’s council meeting; 3-minute speaker time-limit reversed and sent back to Committee of the Whole

Last night’s council meeting was a long one, lasting about two and a half hours. One of the main issues before us was the proposed 3-minute limit to audience comment (down from five minutes.). This decision was reversed last night unanimously by the council, leaving the five minute audience comment that everyone has become accustomed to. The subject has been sent back to Committee of the Whole, as there are still language issues in the policy that some members would like to see better clarified.

There was also discussion about go-forward planning for the Cedar River Library renovation, and some other issues that brought out comment at last night’s meeting. Jenny Manning, Editor of Renton Patch, was in attendance and I’m sure in the coming days she will be posting more detailed stories about specific topics that arose.

What do YOU think should be done to revitalize downtown? A thoughtful reader kicks off the discussion with some great comments!…

What do YOU think should be done to revitalize downtown?  A thoughtful reader kicks off the discussion with some great comments!…

Note: I received a comment on my previous blog that is perfect for starting a new topic. The commenter, who goes by the moniker “Union Hat”, provides some interesting and well-thought-out suggestions for making improvements to downtown. His ideas already started a dialogue, so I captured it below his comments as well. Please review Union Hat’s suggestions, add your views on whether they would work, and add your own ideas! Thanks to Union Hat for this and other great comments, and thanks to all of you readers for your attention and ideas.
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Pictured: The storefront west of the Piazza, where a new library had been proposed to replace this tired building. While voters rejected moving the library from it’s over-the-river location, most citizens I have talked to feel it is worthwhile for the council to focus on further revitalizing this section of downtown Renton. I have heard many good ideas proposed

(From Union Hat)

The vote on the library location is in: Renton Wins!

Cedar River Library lovers get to keep the location we all have appreciated for nearly half a century. Awareness of the need for real revitalization in the oldest part of downtown Renton has not been this great since the local improvement district was created in the late 60’s.

There is still lots of work to do, but we have a chance to get things moving in a productive direction. Here is a To Do List to jumpstart the creative dialog between Economic Development Department, the City Council and the downtown business owners. Please add to my relatively random list of ideas.

Pass an ordinance requiring a private kitchen and bath for rented rooms in the historic district and providing tax credits for renovated office space.

Provide property tax credits to owners who strip off all of the ugly 1970’s upgrades to the building facades and/or restore the brick and stone exteriors and windows to their original design using energy efficient materials. For buildings constructed after 1920, encourage modifications that harmonize the visual appearance of the exteriors with the buildings constructed between 1900 and 1915.

Replace all of the old, ugly and increasingly unsafe sidewalks on S 3rd between Main and Smithers. Replace the odd gutters at the corners. Choose a concrete finish that is safe and durable, but reminiscent of the original wood sidewalks or Renton brickworks sidewalks or both. Include modest midblock sidewalk bump-outs for easier pedestrian street crossing and sidewalk vendor kiosks. Include utility hookups.

Replace the odd 1970’s street lighting and the remaining corner mounted traffic signals. Choose a pole and lamp style reminiscent of early 1900’s gas lamps. Consolidate the little hand holes, and improve the underground conduits to add capacity and provide a building entrance to every structure in downtown. This will allow connection of very high speed fiber to the second story offices. Combine superfast Internet with low cost office space on the southern end of the eastside tech corridor and you create a high-tech startup incubator.

Realign SR-900. The Historic District along S 3rd suffers from far too much vehicle traffic and too little foot traffic in part because they are in direct conflict with each other. By extending MLK way diagonally through the Safeway parking lot to connect with S 2nd and doing a modest widening of S 2nd there could be nearly the same traffic carrying capacity on S 2nd as there is now using both S 2nd and S 3rd.

Reduce S 3rd to a single west bound lane with diagonal parking along both sides. Provide traffic calming planters at each intersection with small street trees and low growing vegetation. Consider stained concrete intersections as we have in The Landing. The finish could reflect roadway bricks made at the Renton brickworks.

Bathe the historic district in very high speed, free wi-fi. Include Rainier, The Landing and the Ikea Shopping District. Perhaps Sunset between N 10th and N 12th and parts of N 4th should be included. Municipal wi-fi is not nearly as cool as it used to be, but is increasingly expected as part of any desirable destination. Very young tech startups might ride on free wi-fi for the first year.

DO NOT spend 10 million dollars to renovate the Cedar River Library. Do an essentials only renovation for about $2 million. If KCLS insists that there needs to be an entrance near the south parking lot, put an attractive rain roof over the pedestrian bridge leading from the parking lot to the existing entrance. When the economy improves a more extensive remodel and expansion to a Ragional library can be considered.

DO spend about 2 million renovating the existing Big 5 structure and relocate the Police Patrol Operations Division into the building for at least 5 years. There has been talk of building a new City Hall building in the old downtown for several years. That is not going to be affordable for a decade (never if we get Barack’d again on Nov. 6th). We can do some stimulus and a lot of crime prevention by putting the police who chase criminal’s right into the belly of the beast. Once West Hill annexes, that location will be a more central location for most of the high crime areas in Renton.

Vacate Mill Ave. S between Bronson Way and S 3rd and expand the parking for the Library and the Museum. With the expanded traffic volume on S 2nd/Bronson the Mill and Bronson intersection will no longer be viable anyway. Put a large bus stop bump out on Bronson where Mill used to be. Include a large sign identifying the KCLS library.

Get KCLS to pay for including the Cedar River and Highlands Libraries in the Renton Wayfinding sign system. They promised us some signs, we should hold them to their promises or they will continue to have no reason to respect Renton.

Yes the projects described above will cost something like 200 million dollars and it will be difficult to amass that much cash. It does not need to be done all at once. Something like 15% to 20% must be local matching funds, but once you have the 30 to 40 million budgeted, it is possible to get federal, state and county improvement grants that could provide practically all of the remaining money needed to actually revitalize Renton. The 10 million we dumped into the parking garage might have attracted 50 million outside dollars. We could have SR-900 realigned already if we had leaders with a little less impatience and just a little more vision and faith in our community.

Get the Administrator of the Community and Economic Development Department to move into town. Strongly encourage the other department heads to live here as well. Their perspective needs to be that of a participant, not a detached management consultant.

If you don’t like my crazy ideas, please post some of your own. It is time to come together to move Renton ahead.
Reply

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Commment to above, from RentonBen

I like all of them – a series of rational improvements, and no expensive boondoggles.

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Follow-on Comment from Union Hat

OK Ben,
How about this? Annex West Hill and extend Renton level police service west to Seattle. Cleaning up crime in downtown Renton needs a regional approach and the King County Sheriffs don’t get the funding they need to hold up their end of the deal. If we are going to beat the crime in Renton and West Hill, we need to join West Hill to Renton first.
Still rational?
____________________________________

Readers, please join this discussion with your ideas by clicking on the comment button!

After amazing grass-roots campaign, Renton Cedar River Library wins 76 % to 24 %!

After amazing grass-roots campaign, Renton Cedar River Library wins 76 % to 24 %!

After an exciting three-month campaign full of passion, door-belling, blogging, information booths, a parade enty, and letters to the editor– covering subjects such as library patrons desires and needs, conflicting cost estimates, conflicting parking predictions, and discussion of many other “unknowns,”– Renton citizens have overwhelmingly selected “Over the Cedar River” as their favorite location for a library. The first returns were showing the Cedar River locations leading the Piazza location by 76% to 24 %.

Cedar River Library Campaign Chair Stuart Avery summarized the sentiment tonight at an election-watch/victory party by restating the theme the campaign had adopted, “there really is no better place.”

As a special treat, former Renton Mayor Don Custer, a charming, witty, senior statesmen for our city who presided over Renton when the library was built in 1966, stopped by the party tonight. Don shared stories of the original library construction, and reminded us the project was accomplished for about $300,000 . He said the inspiration for the library came from Italy and England, where he and others had seen shops on bridges. He said one of the original architects also took their inspiration from a building on the US East Coast that was located on a bridge over the freeway, but none of these buildings were libraries.

Some of the supporters of the competing Piazza Library site had expressed a desire to move the library to stimulate revitalization of downtown. At tonight’s party, there was a prevailing sentiment that downtown revitalization was a worthy goal deserving of city emphasis, but that moving the library was not the right approach– several citizens were eager to share other ideas for bringing improvements to the areas near the Piazza.

The Renton Patch has other details on the election which can be found here.

Thank you to all who participated in this campaign, and thanks to the voters of Renton for supporting our unique, treasured library.


Cedar River Library supporters in the River Days parade ten days ago

I’ve always like parades. I’m walking (and waving) next to Marcie Palmer who serves with me on City Council– Stuart Avery, Cedar River Library campaign chair, is to the far right leading the procession (in white campaign T-shirt)

Underground conditions still unknown over much of proposed Piazza library site

Underground conditions still unknown over much of proposed Piazza library site


No one really knows exactly what conditions lie below the wavy floor of the old building at the site proposed for a new Piazza Library (shown above). Already, a costly “auger-cast column” system has been defined, which will require drilling down 20 to 30 feet in an eight foot grid across the breadth and width of a new building on this site and pouring piers to support the new floor, and this cost was not included in the original 9.3 million dollar estimate. In addition, there could be contamination which must be abated, or archeological features which need to be preserved– no one knows until we dig.

Some supporters of the Piazza library site, including the Renton Reporter, have repeated the idea that in terms of construction costs, remodeling the Cedar River Library carries “unknown” costs, while building at the Piazza site is highly predictable in cost. (You will find this assertion in this article for example.)

I don’t agree with this opinion however, as there can be many additional construction impacts hidden in the soil conditions, and these generally won’t be known until we start digging. These unknown underground conditions are an issue for the Piazza site, but not the Cedar River Site.

Some hidden conditions that have added to costs in Renton projects before are soils that are inadequate to support the building or the floors without reinforcement, contamination from previous uses, and the discovery of Native American artifacts on the site.

Already, a Geotechnical report provided to KCLS dated November 2nd 2011, done by Geo Engineers, has determined that the Piazza Library will need a more robust foundation system than the typical spread footings and slab-on-grade that were assumed when the 9.3 million dollar estimate was produced. The engineering firm has determined that the soil is so compressible and subject to liquefaction at the Piazza Library Site that the builders should install “lean auger-cast columns” (poured in-place concrete piers made with a lean concrete mix) up to thirty feet deep in a grid approximately every five to eight feet across the entire floor just to support the loads. The site is underlayed with multiple layers of silt and clay and alluvial sand, which makes it subject to liquefaction in an earthquake.

Of course contamination is always a concern when digging up old building sites, especially on locations where commercial use dates back before World War 2. While I am not aware of any surface evidence of fuel oil tanks, it is always possible that there are tanks buried in the site (either from heating oil or automobile fuel). It is also possible that before the sporting goods store moved in years ago, someone used the site in a way that allowed contamination to flow into the soils. Old fuel tanks and contaminated soil conditions are common discoveries in older parts of town, and they add cost to building projects. If these conditions exist, even deep under the surface, they will easily be discovered in the process of perforating the site with the newly required “lean auger-cast columns.” Here is a Seattle Times article which says that even the removal of a relatively small, basic home heating tank can cost up to $100,000 if there has been leakage. This cost would be many times greater for an underground gasoline tank. Click here to learn more about Renton sites where this work has been undertaken at great expense, such as the Texaco site that now hosts Big Foot Java, and the recently closed Jet City Espresso, which was formerly Charley’s Automotive.

Native American artifacts were discovered during the expansion of Renton High School in 2001, and during the building of the Henry Moses Aquatic Center in 2004. Both of these discoveries halted the projects and added costs, and could have led to costly redesigns if satisfactory resolution had not been reached with the tribes and the state regarding how to preserve the discoveries. Click here to read more (see page 25 of the report). The discovery report refers to the sites as “floodplain”, in reference to the Lake Washington and Black River conditions that existed before 20th century river and lake manipulation. No doubt the Piazza Library site is part of the floodplain, and was a historic area of activity for the Duwamish tribes.

While none of these risks should disqualify a site from construction, it is simply wrong to imply that there are no “unknowns” prior to excavating a site like the Piazza library location.



This photo, which is hosted by the UW Library, shows a 1930’s gas station at 3rd and Logan, in what appears to be the parking lot of the former Big 5 Sporting Goods store. The fuel tanks were single-walled back then, and they lacked monitoring for detecting leaks. There is no word yet on whether records exist which show the removal of these fuel tanks.

Four specific reasons to disregard today’s Renton Reporter editorial supporing the Piazza library location

Four specific reasons to disregard today’s Renton Reporter editorial supporing the Piazza library location

The Renton Reporter posted an editorial today in favor of the Piazza library location. There are four specific reasons for disregarding this editorial:

Reason number 1– The editor opens the editorial by showing he is out of step with the Council, the Mayor, and the citizens on this topic

The editor begins his editorial by saying that he personally would not have let the library location go to a vote. In this regard, he disagrees with all seven Renton council members and the Mayor of Renton, who felt that the public should be heard on this issue when we placed the issue on the ballot two months ago. The Renton Reporter editor also disagrees with the 15 % of registered Renton voters who signed a petition asking for a vote. This seems quite out of step with the desires of the community.

Reason number 2– The editor’s track record for accurate library information is not good

The editor claims voters knew, or should have known, they were voting for two new libraries when they voted to annex to KCLS. His statements include “From the beginning it’s been clear that in all formal documents Renton’s elected leaders agreed to build two new libraries.” and “.. it was clearly spelled out that the city would build two replacement libraries for KCLS if annexation should occur.” and “It was also clear (in the 2010 voters’ pamphlet and elsewhere) at the time of the vote that annexation would mean the city would have to build two new libraries for KCLS. “

But two years ago before the KCLS election, the Renton Reporter never informed voters that a vote for KCLS was a vote for closing Cedar River library. In the Renton Reporter editorial of January 27, 2010 a week prior to the KCLS annexation, Dean Radford wrote: Renton residents will have some local control over whether the city builds a new library, perhaps in the Highlands, if and when a levy to do so is placed on the ballot. That’s a glimmer of local control, although the building would belong to KCLS.Beyond this editorial, there were four special reports on the KCLS annexation issue; in these reports, the Renton Reporter never once mentioned that the Cedar River Library would be subject to closure with annexation to KCLS. Yet this possibility of closure is obviously an issue of paramount importance to thousands of trusting citizens. (See more on this issue by clicking here) One must conclude that either the editor did not know all the facts when he wrote his editorial of January 27, 2010, or else he was trying to mislead the public. I like Mr. Radford, so I want to believe it was a misunderstanding on his part, but voters need to keep that in mind as they review today’s library editorial.

Reason number 3– The editor cites the lack of clarity in this election, but goes on to support the people who brought us the lack of clarity

In today’s editorial Mr. Radford says, “Unfortunately, what’s really missing today is clarity, especially about the cost to renovate the library over the Cedar.” Of course we lack clarity because (A) there was a deliberate push by the Piazza library supporter to force this library choice too fast, when the plans including re-purposing were far from complete; and (B)the Renton Reporter has swallowed a rushed, secret KCLS study with blatant errors, including double-dipping on contingencies, incorrect mitigation fees, wrong assumptions, and other problems. I agree that this is “Unfortunate,” but throwing support to the people that created this lack of clarity is foolish, especially when they have been found responsible for similar misinformation before.

Reason number 4– The editor uses a circular argument to try to dismiss re-purposing costs, a dis-service to taxpayers

The editor’s words speak for themselves here. Read them carefully. He says; “Don’t be misled by assertions that it will cost the city $10 million (or more) to upgrade it for another use. That’s only true for a state-of-the-art library. The city could continue using the building right away, with no renovation. When the time is right, it could seek the dollars needed to upgrade for a specific use, just like any other city-owned building.” Okay. So Mr. Radford is saying we can continue to use the building as is (as a library?), and we won’t have to pay the millions more until we want to upgrade if for another specific use (like an environmental center). He is agreeing with the exact assertion he is trying to dismiss. It would be laughable except that taxpayers will be on the hook for this future re-purposing expense and they may not know it. They will also be on the hook for annual operating costs for another facility, and there is no budget for this.

Renton’s $250,000 Gateway Park, including many mature trees, would be torn out for Piazza Library

Renton’s $250,000 Gateway Park, including many mature trees, would be torn out for Piazza Library

Many Renton residents are not aware that the taxpayer-funded Gateway Park west of the Piazza, including mature trees and landscape, will be torn out if the Big 5 (Piazza Site) is chosen for the new library.  This is because the Gateway Park square footage must be combined with the former Big 5 parking lot and the former Big 5 building in order to accommodate the new building and it’s entryway.  The landscape and trees are finally reaching maturity in this park.  Taxpayers paid approximately $250,000 to have this designed and landscaped around 1999, and to have an elaborate irrigation system installed (which has been helping the plantings grow and thrive for twelve years).  Like the parking in the area, the cost of this park has never been included in estimates for the cost of the Piazza Library.  If land purchases, off-site parking, and the cost of this park were included in the Piazza library cost, then the total price of this option would be between 11 and 12 million dollars, compared the the 10.1 million estimated for remodeling of the Cedar River Library.

If the Piazza Library site is chose, there will be an outcry when these trees get cut down. (Many Renton citizens have been complaining already about tree-losses downtown, primarily due to widening of nearby Rainier Avenue.)

Renton Patch Story: “Did KCLS Wrongly Use Public Funds to Mail July 2 Letter”

Renton Patch Story: “Did KCLS Wrongly Use Public Funds to Mail July 2 Letter”

Two or Renton’s media outlets have recently run stories on public outcry and PDC  complaints regarding a KCLS mailing on July 2nd on Propostion 1 at taxpayers expense.

You can read the story in the Renton Patch here  “Did KCLS Wrongly Use Public Funds to Mail July 2nd Letter”, and in the Renton Reporter here  “PDC complaints mount against KCLS over Renton mailing; read letter, study”

There have also been many complaints in cyberspace about this, including a large number in newspaper comment sections.  We have also received several letters of concern at city hall, in our official email (even though the letter was produced by KCLS, not Renton).

I had concerns in late June that KCLS might be preparing such a letter , and I knew it would do harm to the City of Renton’s ability to conduct an election on the library location that is both fair and perceived as fair by Renton’s citizens.  I cautioned KCLS leadership and the PDC about this serious risk in a letter I sent to them on June 25 which you can read here.

I received a response from PDC, which said among other things that KCLS must ensure their letter is “fair and objective.”  As of that response, the PDC had not seen the KCLS letter, and as hard as I tried, I was unable to obtain a copy of the letter before it was put in the mail to 43,000 homes.  Shortly after the letter started showing up in mailboxes, many members of the public found serious accounting and math errors in the analysis behind the letter, along with new subjective and questionable assumptions that were wrongly presented as facts.  As these citizens were contacting the media and writing to PDC (and writing to council,) I summarized my concerns in a blog entry here, and then sent a second letter to the PDC here.

The State Attorney General’s office has provided some excellent guidance to government agencies reminding them to be extremely cautious when informing the public about ballot issues.  One memo, which you can find here, closes with this advice:

“In closing, it is important to remember that the public is generally very sensitive to the use of public facilities or property on ballot propositions or initiatives and takes accusations of violations very seriously. Officers and employees who try to bump up against the “line” that divides lawful from unlawful conduct in this area may find, even if their conduct is eventually judged lawful, that their questionable activity has incited a public backlash against the very position they were attempting to advocate. As a result, public employees should walk a careful line to assure that the public is fully and adequately informed about the consequences of voting on a particular measure, without making unlawful use of public money or property to influence the result of the vote.”

I encourage KCLS and all public agencies to take this advice seriously in the future.

Parking difficulties downtown would be worsened by new Piazza library

Parking difficulties downtown would be worsened by new Piazza library

(This article is part of a series I am writing to help ensure voters have as much information as possible before the August 7 library election. Like all my other entries, these are my personal views. I am never speaking for the Renton Council or the City of Renton as a whole in this privately-funded website. Please scroll down for other library entries. Thanks for reading)

This photo was taken last Thursday, about 100 feet from the site proposed for the Piazza library. Highland resident Jennifer came out of a downtown Renton restaurant after a one-hour lunch to find her car hooked up to a tow truck. She had to give the towing company $137 to get her car unhooked, even though she was in a marked parking spot and the lot does not appear to be correctly posted for immediate towing. Jennifer is now involved in a dispute to get her money back, and there are two Renton businesses (the lot owner and the towing company) she will never do business with in the future. If the library is moved to this location, library patrons would be encountering a worse situation daily as they jockey to find spots where they can dash in and pick up or drop off books, while customers of downtown business, apartment visitors, and parents dropping kids for daycare will face new competition for existing spots.

The parking plan for the proposed new Piazza library is not clear. Proponents of the move say that there will be sites on the street dedicated to the library, and that the parking garage will easily handle all the rest of the need. But there are numerous problems with this.

First, if we dedicate existing public parking in the downtown to a new library, we take it away from nearby businesses including restaurants, shops, and even a daycare. And by posting it specifically for library patrons, we take away the number one reason that some downtown business owners have given for wanting us to move the library downtown– that library patrons will visit other businesses on their library outings. In other words, if a patron drives up to the library, and sees a spot marked “For library patrons only– others will be ticketed”, there is virtually no chance of seeing that patron stop into a restaurant for lunch before getting back into his or her car. And once in their car, they will head to their favorite lunch spot, whether that is three blocks or two miles away.

On the other hand, if anyone expects library visitors to readily use the downtown Renton garage, they are in for a disappointment. This garage, which Diamond Parking has overseen for Renton since 2008, is a distance from the library and requires that users register their vehicles even when parking for only a few minutes. Anyone who fails to register their vehicle even for the first two hours of free parking is subject to a $30 fee, which goes to $60 if not paid within 15 days. For parents already juggling kids and books, this step will be an additional frustration on top of the two to three block walk — not to mention the stairs in the garage. And patrons and business owners won’t be happy about another detail. If a library patron decides to walk a few blocks for cupcakes or coffee after their library visit, they will have to anticipate this BEFORE they leave the parking lot. This is because the parking fee for stays longer than two hours must be paid in advance– overstays are subject to a 30 dollar fee, rising to 60 dollars if not paid in 15 days. This will certainly discourage lingering in downtown Renton after a library visit.
Diamond Parking rules posted within the City Center Parking garage. Hourly users must pay in advance, and not overstay, or face a $30-$60 fee. (The parking garage works better for monthly users and transit riders, who bypass the hourly meter and park at higher levels with window permits)

Note that this is in stark contrast to the existing Cedar River Library, which has generous free parking of unlimited duration. Patrons with only a few minutes can make a quick dash in for a convenient pick-up or drop-off. Visitors with more time available can browse the library, play at the playground, and then walk down the street for coffee, cupcakes, or lunch if they feel so inclined. No tow-truck drivers will be stiffing them $137 for a one-hour overstay, nor will Diamond Parking be billing them $60 for failing to respond to the first notice that they forgot to register their car when the parked for 15 minutes to drop a book off. In addition, downtown restaurant owners won’t have to post awkward signs asking library patrons not to park on their property, or even worse having patrons’ cars towed. (Each time a business has a car towed or confronts a library patron, they should plan on losing about 20 customers for life thanks to the tell-a-friend effect)

When we built the city center parking garage in 2003, it cost Renton taxpayers about $18,000 per parking spot. We did this to get transit users and employees cars out of the way, so that businesses had ample parking for their customers. At 18,000 dollars per parking spot, Renton is providing an additional gift worth 1.2 million dollars to KCLS if we turn over sixty-five parking spots for free in this high-density area (in either the garage or the street). This should be booked against the cost of the Piazza library, driving its cost up from 9.3 million to 10.5 million dollars, exceeding the 10.1 million dollar cost to remodel the Cedar River Library.
With Cedar River library parking north and south of the river, and generous overflow at the City’s 200 Mill Building (pictured above) and the east side of liberty park, library patrons never have any issues with parking at the present site.

City of Renton library cost estimates were accurate; KCLS estimates have serious errors

City of Renton library cost estimates were accurate; KCLS estimates have serious errors

In this photo I shot on Sunday, library patrons can be seen entering the library from the center of the bridge, while others stop and watch the river for salmon. Flotillas of rafts and geese can be seen cruising down the river. KCLS wants to close this library entrance and put the library entrance on the south parking lot– adding to the costs and making the north parking lot less convenient. This brand-new and unrequested change is one of several bad assumptions and errors that form the basis of a letter KCLS sent to Renton citizens, wrongly stating that Renton’s previous estimates for the library were incorrect.

Some readers have asked about the letter that KCLS recently sent to Renton residents challenging the city’s official cost estimates for the Cedar River Library remodel. In this letter, Library Director Bill Ptacek asserts that Renton officials underestimated the costs of the remodel, and he claims that a study by the Miller Hull architecture firm shows the actual costs will be 13.1 million instead of the city-estimated 10.1 million dollars. (I have attached the letter here)

There are several critical flaws in Mr. Ptacek’s letter and analysis, and readers should continue to respect and use the City of Renton’s official published cost figures for the comparison of the library options. The City’s numbers were prepared by an excellent estimating firm that has accurately predicted costs for five thousand public buildings, including King County Libraries. In addition these city estimates were prepared in a deliberate, careful, unbiased, public process with well-vetted assumptions, and provide a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the two sites. The cost of the Cedar River Library remodel is 10.1 million for a 22,000 square foot building, vs the cost of a new library at the Piazza for 9.3 million for a 15,000 square foot building.

Flaws with the KCLS estimates:

With regard to the recently released KCLS letter, the first thing to note is that KCLS’s Miller-Hull study (linked here) actually predicts only 8.1 million dollars in hard costs of the library, including labor, materials, 15% contingencies and 5 % cost escalations. The other 5.0 million dollars is a summation of additional costs that was created by KCLS and never shared with the public– I only have it because of a freedom of information request that was served on KCLS (click here to see it). I’ll discuss each of these two estimate components separately.

The 8.1 million in hard costs:

Miller-Hull estimated 8.1 million dollars in hard costs, about 1.4 million more than the City’s estimate of around 6.7 million. If one wades through the details of both studies, the difference can be largely traced to two major contributors, both of which appear to be more appropriately handled in the City of Renton (Robinson Company ) estimate. These differences are that the City’s estimate assumed that the front entry of the library would remain on the bridge in the current location. In my opinion, this is an excellent assumption, since it was the designer’s original plan for library patrons to walk out over the water to enter the library, it makes excellent use of parking lots on both the north and south sides of the library, and it keeps the library entrance well-connected to the playground. Furthermore, we have never publicly discussed moving this entrance, and voters would reasonably assume it is in the same place. The KCLS estimate, on the other hand, makes a brand-new assumption that the entrance of the library will be moved to the south end of the building to directly face the south parking lot. They recommend this because they feel patrons won’t want to walk the 75-foot distance of half of the bridge to enter the library. This recommendation is ironic, as it is contrary to the KCLS position that users of a new library at the Piazza would have no objections to walking two or three blocks and up stairs in a parking garage. Without the assumption of relocating the entrance, much of the interior reconfiguration costs of the library drop in line with the city estimate.

The other big contributor to the difference between Renton’s and KCLS’s estimates is the floor reinforcement. The City estimates assume that we double the capacity of the floors across the span of the library, from their current 60-65 pounds per square foot, to 125 pounds per square foot, as was first agreed to with KCLS (and is the current load-bearing capability under our book stacks above land.) This would be more than ample to give KCLS flexibility with book stacks, and would in fact be strong enough to accommodate most any non-industrial use (see seismic report here) But for some reason, in the recent KCLS estimate, they have included the costs of reinforcing the floors even further, up to 150 lb per square foot– 250 % higher than today’s floor strength. This exceeds code, and it exceeds their needs. Without these two big cost contributors, which are both faulty assumptions from KCLS and not desired by Renton taxpayers, the Miller-Hull and Robinson estimates are not much different.

The 5.0 million in additional KCLS estimated costs:

When Miller-Hull completed their 8.1 million dollar estimate, they specifically included construction contingencies of 15%, and escalations of 5% right in their estimates. However, KCLS added these numbers AGAIN to their estimate, clearly “double-dipping” on this expensive line-item. This adds 1.3 million to their estimate which is completely unjustified or fabricated.


Above: Miller Hull comments remind report-users that 15 % contingency and 5 % additional escalation IS already included in grand total construction cost of 8.08 million

Above: KCLS adds 15 % construction contingency into the estimate a second time, breaking it into 10% unanticipated “work orders” plus a 5 % contingency– the same 15% that Miller Hull Architects already included. (except the dollars are EVEN HIGHER because it is compounded as a contingency on a contingency on a contingency)

In addition, KCLS added hundreds of thousands in utility and traffic mitigation costs that would be required with a new building, but not a remodel with the same use.

KCLS also appears to have added the $60,000 they paid for the Miller-Hull study, and perhaps even the $8000 they spent sending the pre-election letter to Renton residents– these appear to add up the the $68,000 “feasibility study” shown in the spreadsheet. Renton citizens appear to be getting charged for KCLS pre-election study/literature in this line item from page 2 of the KCLS spreadsheet.

Most of the other line-items in KCLS estimates are generally okay, but all get scaled from the difference in the building cost of 6.7 million and 8.1 million, which was based on faulty KCLS assumptions.

In Summary, the three million dollar difference between Renton’s and KCLS’s estimates is:

1.3 M- Moving library entrance away from river and making floors stronger than 2012 code
1.3 M- KCLS double-dipping (charging the architect-recommended contingency 15 % TWICE)
0.2 M- Applying non-applicable traffic/utility mitigation fees (not for remodel)
0.13 M- Percent-based cost numbers that are scaled up, due to all of the errors above
0.07 M- KCLS charging Renton taxpayers for feasibility study and letter (not our costs)

Sadly, KCLS has been found guilty of misleading the public before. Click here for the PDC report. They have also had trouble staying within the law in managing their projects (click here for the state auditor’s report). The city of Renton has not had such difficulties with the PDC or State Auditors office. So the bottom line is, trust the numbers from the City of Renton (in the official voters pamphlet), not those sent out in the KCLS letter.