According to the latest estimates, Thurston County could spend up to $ 9.9 million on the reconstruction of the electoral department complex.
Premises service manager Jason Ash shared an estimate of the cost of improving the Motman complex during a meeting Thursday with the county council.
In June, the county spent $ 5.6 million to purchase a complex of three buildings at the intersection of Southwest Ferguson Street and 29th Avenue in Tamwater. Auditor Mary Hall’s office previously rented space in the complex for election and ballot processing.
With the purchase Hall can expand to meet her space needs and consolidate her staff there on the eve of the next round of presidential elections.
This includes expanding the ballot processing center and relocating voter registration and registration services to a nearby building, according to Ash’s presentation. The third building of the complex will include a maintenance shop and a surplus room, he said.
Although no official estimate of the cost had been given before, County Assistant Mayor Robin Campbell acknowledged that the reconstruction costs were higher than the county had hoped when buying the property.
To manage costs, Campbell suggested the county complete the improvement stages, starting with a ballot processing center that will occupy the entire eastern building.
Once that is done, she said the county could move on to setting up a voter registration center in the southern building. Other improvements to western and southern buildings could occur after that, she added.
She also expressed the possibility that Hall’s office could provide grant funding for its ballot processing center and improve voter registration. While grants can help cut costs, I’m not sure the county will get them.
“Mary (Hall) is very interested in always looking for grants, so she will be a great partner in finding ways to pay for it,” Campbell said.
The $ 9.9 million estimate includes construction, site improvements and “soft costs,” Ash said. It does not include the cost of adding solar panels, which could cost an additional $ 100,000 per building, he added.
The southern building, designated as Building 1, will currently house a voter registration center. Improvements include adding lanes for the driveway and a new sidewalk for pedestrians, Ash said.
The remaining 30% of the building will be occupied by the audit department. In total, the construction and improvement of this building costs more than $ 3.1 million.
Adding a maintenance shop to the western building, designated as Building 2, will cost about $ 1.7 million, Ash said.
Most importantly, the improvement of the ballot processing center in the eastern building, designated Building 3, will cost about $ 3 million.
Finally, soft costs such as furniture, sales tax, permit fees and relocation costs are expected to reach $ 2 million.
Commissioner Ty Menser commented on the higher-than-expected price during Thursday’s meeting.
“I’m much happier with the cost of solar panels than some other things,” he said. “It’s a lot of extra expense that I don’t think anyone expected.”
Even in the worst case, when funding may be low, Menser said he believes improving the ballot processing center will primarily at least meet the key goal of the project 3.
“There are separate parts to this, and not being able to do the last part doesn’t mean we won’t get value from the previous parts,” he said. “The first part we’re dealing with is the real factor as to why we needed the complex to get started, and we still have the investment.”
Given the county’s various other needs, Commissioner Gary Edwards said he was worried that economic failure could thwart those redevelopment plans.
“Boy, we’re taking on quite a load, without any protective mechanism,” he said. “I’m worried about the future that will come with all this inflation and other things happening around the world, but I know we can’t stop doing business because of what the world might be.”
Commissioner Carolina Mehia was not happy with the overall cost estimate, but said she still hopes the county will handle it.
“The price tag makes you break down when you first see it,” she said. “Maybe go through the stages … and see if we can get grant funding for it and lower that price tag, that would be preferable.”
District manager Ramiro Chavez said he would return the project to the council in about two weeks so he could decide on further steps.