Bainbridge Island government has some explaining to do.
It came to light in 2006 that BI was in need of a new police department. Here we are 15 years later, and we still don’t have one. We deserve to know why.
There is lots of information on the city website on this issue, but little explains why things happened and why this has taken so long.
When this first began, the cost of the facility was going to be about $4 million. There is no explanation on why nothing was done, but the issue wasn’t picked up again for about seven years. We can guess that it was because of the recession, but nothing says that.
When the issue finally is looked at again, around 2013, a number of potential sites are mentioned, along with a number of costs, but again there is no explanation on why no action was taken.
This continues before finally we learn action apparently wasn’t taken quickly enough on some sites because they were no longer available for the city to purchase for a police station. No explanation was given on why the city didn’t jump when it had the chance. This is an issue that continues for years.
Talks started about adding a court to the station in 2014, along with building it along with Fire Station 21, which was favored by the police chief at the time. Then city manager Doug Schulze said it was not a good option, but did not explain why.
Mackenzie, a reputable company for this type of project, continued to come up with some more good sites with some more good prices, but again action wasn’t taken fast enough before the sites were lost for the project. Again, no explanation was given as to why. In 2016 Coats Design was brought in instead, right after Proposition 1, a $15 million bond measure for the project, was soundly defeated by 75 percent.
Finally, in 2018, it was as if the council was going to get this done no matter what, although that was not explained. Few choices were given at few prices, and the council finally — after 13 years — acted.
Apparently this was done in such haste that the city paid twice as much for the Harrison Medical Center building than it was worth as a police station-courthouse. It paid the going rate for if it remained a medical center. The city even obtained medical center equipment that was in the building – hardly necessary for a police station. Final purchase in 2019 was for $8.975 million. Again, no explanation to the public, but reportedly most of the discussions were done in executive session or privately with staff.
Now, yes years later, the public figured out on its own that this was a bad deal. A few months ago, the majority on the council didn’t even want to look at it again. Because of public pressure, it’s changed its mind.
Former city leaders have said all the answers are in the documents. But we’ve spent hours upon hours looking at them, and not finding answers to all of our questions. Wouldn’t it be better for the public for a report to be made explaining everything that happened?
Not a lot can be done about what happened in the past. But we hope the city looks at it, figures out what happened, so it will never happen again. It might have just been incompetence, but if there was anything criminal that needs to be brought to the forefront. We just can’t assume there wasn’t. Some of the information provided to the council looks off. The process was never explained to the public so we know why it happened.
What can be done is looking to the future. Another $10 million must be spent to remodel the building for its intended use. Some have mentioned an entirely new station could be built for that price. If that’s true, that would be the best route to go.
The city has a lot of needs and goals. One of those is affordable housing. Imagine turning HMC into an affordable housing apartments. Not only would that be great for helping those in need in the community, it also would be a good investment. That’s the type of city facility that actually would bring money back to the city in the form of rent payments. So instead of just throwing money down the drain, money would be coming out of the faucet. What a concept for a city facility. Plus we’d be getting two city buildings for the same price we were going to pay for one. And they would only increase in value over the years.
If this vetting process occurs, city government does not have to be concerned about pointing fingers — too many people have dropped the ball over the years. There have been too many changes in the City Council and city staff to do that.
But we could feel better about government transparency and feel better about the direction we’re heading in the future.
Steve Powell is the managing editor of the Bainbridge Island Review.