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Transmitter building one big headache

The old Transmitter builing at Battle Point is under renovation. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
The old Transmitter builing at Battle Point is under renovation.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Cost overruns, construction setbacks stall restoration as a community recreation center.

It’s another setback for one of the island’s most ambitious projects.

Two years behind schedule and already over budget, the renovation of the Battle Point transmitter building has stalled just shy of completion due to funding shortfalls and project mishaps.

“We’re so close right now,” project manager Jean Welch said. “We’ve solved all the big problems. We’re almost ready to open.

“We don’t have an opening date because we’re out of money.”

It will cost an estimated $24,000 to push the project out of the red and into service. The money will go to purchase of an access elevator, handrails and a ladder to the roof – all of which the building needs to conform to fire and accessibility codes.

The structure is being converted into a multi-use recreation center for the Park District and public use. The first phase of the project will open the top floor to gymnastics and fitness classes and serve as an indoor play area for children.

The project began in early 2004 with phase one targeted for completion within two years at a cost of $275,000.

The budget is now approaching $400,000, as the problems of working with a 65-year-old building make their mark on finances and timelines.

“It’s a costly project,” said Recreation Services Director John DeMeyer. “This building was built to withstand seven days of bombing. Just putting a hole through a wall is not a simple task.”

Refurbishing the building, which was instrumental in intercepting Japanese military transmissions during World War II, has been a balancing act between preservation and renovation, often with unnerving consequences.

“Dealing with this whole building has been the biggest unknown variable,” DeMeyer said. “We wanted to preserve the integrity and the historical value of the structure. There would have been easier ways to do things, but we didn’t want to change anything.”

Among the most recent headaches were water leakage from outside – long after the building was said to have been waterproofed.

“We finally had the whole interior sheetrocked when we noticed water leaking into the building last October,” Welch said. “We had to tear out about two-thirds of the sheetrock to repair cracks in the cement structure. That set us back a few months and about $10,000.”

Streaks of orange sealant still stand out starkly on the olive-green building. However, the groups of volunteers and professionals who have given their time to the project have had some victories over the cumbersome building.

“The biggest problems which set the project back have finally been resolved,” Welch said. “Getting the roof tarred and the basement waterproofed, the plumbing, the septic and electricity, that’s all done.”

No small feat, considering the 6 inches of reinforced concrete that needed to be removed for every pipe, wire and window in the building. Putting electricity into the building alone cost over $26,000.

The roof needed to be redone as well, due to discrepancies in the work quality between volunteers and hired professionals.

“The roof didn’t end up so good,” DeMeyer said. “We had to hot tar it again. We got a lot of volunteers donating time, and sometimes if you’re not giving this type of job to a contractor where there is accountability, you have to redo some things.”

Despite setbacks, both DeMeyer and Welch commended volunteers for keeping costs below industry rates, on one of the larger projects in Bainbridge community history.

“If we bid this job out it, would have probably been about a million dollars,” Demeyer said. “The little setbacks were painful but they made the project doable. I can’t think of any other project the park district has done recently that has been more of a community-wide effort with such a large combination of grants, donations and in-kind contributions.”

Now the focus is finding additional funds to finish the building.

“We’re looking around and weighing our options,” Welch said. “We’re hoping for a combination of grants, maybe park district support and donations from the community.”

Once funding has been secured to complete phase one, preliminary plans will begin for phase two of the project, which will overhaul the basement.

“When we get to the basement, we plan on having a multi-purpose room, and meeting room for a whole bunch of other things,” Welch said. “Planning on that will start when this is done. The committee will probably want to take a break, since it’s been working on phase one for four years.”

The building has come a long way since it was declared surplus property in 1971 and handed over to the park district as part of the Federal Land to Parks program in 1972.

It languished for years as a storage facility, often storing up to three feet of water in the basement during the rainy season.

Despite setbacks, Welch and Demeyer are hopeful that funds will be secured in time to see the facility open this fall. Welch is even beginning to brainstorm the grand opening ceremony.

“Two gentlemen who worked here during World War II will be coming to the opening,” Welch said. “We’ll bring out the big scissors and all the people that helped will be here. It’s going to be a big deal.”

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Finishing touch

To contribute to the transmitter building renovation, make donations to the Bainbridge Island Park Foundation.

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