Thursday, November 15, 2018

Olympia Ice Rink Opens


Above: Skaters of all ages and abilities tried out the new seasonal ice rink in downtown Olympia Thursday night. The rink opens to the public on Friday, November 16.

Oly on Ice Opens November 16

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

If you fall down at Olympia’s new seasonal ice rink, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” might be a great song to remember. 

The temporary ice rink at 529 4th Avenue West, called Oly on Ice, opens to the public on Friday, November 16, from 3:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Weekend hours are 10:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Sundays.

The rink was open Thursday night for show and tell to media, city staff, and the rinks financial sponsors and their families. Plenty of upbeat tunes and encouragement kept skaters of all ages and abilities moving and laughing.

It will be open seven days a week from November 16 – January 6 except Thanksgiving with special operating hours during school winter breaks and on holidays.

For a full list of admission prices, hours, and special events, go to OlyOnIce.com or call City of Olympia, Parks, Arts & Recreation at (360) 753-8380.

Oly on Ice parking is available at the two lots immediately east and west of the ice rink. Do not park at Bayview Thriftway or other private lots adjacent to the rink.

Temporary restrooms are available on site during the run of the ice rink.

The rink is only 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, which might frustrate some, but even Dorothy Hamill, Michelle Kwan, Johnny Weir and Nathan Chen had to start somewhere.

Perhaps the best advice of the night came from Lia Prandi, 17, just one of several assistants on hand to help people get up off the ice.

“When you fall, tuck your hands in as soon as possible so they don’t get run over by other skaters,” she said. Prandi said she learned to skate at Sprinker Recreation Center in Tacoma.

Olympia city manager Steve Hall grew up in the Pacific Northwest and never learned how to skate. He strapped on skates for the first time and hugged the edge of the rink until he was comfortable letting go.

Stephanie Johnson, Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation arts and events program manager, demonstrated that she can skate backwards. Originally from Greeley, Colorado, Johnson said she learned to skate on a lake near her house that used to freeze.

Paul Simmons, Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation director, whipped around the rink. He said he grew up in Federal Way and has only ice skated about three times but has a lot of experience rollerblading.

“So many people have done so much to pull this off….This is how we’ll bring the community together in the winter months doing something really positive,” he said about the rink.

Above: Jonathon Turlove, Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation associate director, left, wriggles his size 14 feet into a pair of size 12 skates, the largest available. Kellie Purce Braseth, City of Olympia strategic communications director, puts on skates for the first time, while her husband Svin Braseth, right, is originally from Norway and has experience skating.

Landin Vargas, 11, of Olympia, had never been on skates before but skated for a full hour. He fell a few times but got right back up each time. His mom, Farra Hayes, skated on the ice with him. She works for Puget Sound Energy, one of the rink’s 40 financial sponsors.

As he took off his skates for the night, Vargas said he was definitely coming back. 

“I don’t get down on myself when I fall,” he said confidently.

Upcoming Special Events

Nutcracker on Ice, November 29, 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Get your picture taken with your favorite characters from Ballet Northwest’s Nutcracker cast.

Pride Night, December 6, 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Join Pizza Klatch for a night of fun – they’ll be selling wearable glow sticks to light up the ice! Rainbow attire encouraged all day.

Wizards on Ice, December 13, 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Witches, wizards, squibs and muggles: Join the South Sound Reading Foundation and the Downtown Ambassadors for magical trivia and prizes. Skate-safe costumes encouraged.

Ugly Sweater Night, December 20, 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Skate in your ugly sweater while the Capital High School Chamber Choir serenades skaters with holiday carols.

Fairy Tale Nights, December 27, 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Face painting, balloon animals, and photo opportunities with your favorite fairy tale characters from Glitter & Suede Events and Venue.

Super Hero Night, January 3, 2019, 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Come in your favorite skate-safe costume and get a giveaway from Olympic Cards & Comics while supplies last.

For a previous article about the ice rink, go to “Temporary Olympia Ice Rink Coming Soon,” October 19, 2018, at http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2018/10/temporary-olympia-ice-rink-coming-soon.html

Above: The Oly on Ice rink tent in downtown Olympia is on the isthmus between Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jones Announces Run for Olympia Mayor


Above: Nathaniel Jones, Olympia Mayor Pro Tem, announced on Wednesday that he is running for mayor of Olympia. The position is currently held by Mayor Cheryl Selby. File photo from January, 2016.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood
https://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

Leadership and transparency are top priorities

Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones announced on Wednesday that he is launching a campaign for mayor of Olympia. 

The position is currently held by Mayor Cheryl Selby.

In a press release, Jones stated that he will restore confidence in the city’s direction and ensure that community members are not shut out of key decisions.

Jones has served as Olympia’s Mayor Pro Tem since being elected to the city council in 2011. He was reelected to a second four year term in November 2015. Among other assignments, Jones serves on the councils Land Use and Environment Committee.

Regarding the homeless, Jones called for “compassionate accountability and effective management of unacceptable and unhealthy conditions” at tent encampments in downtown Olympia.

He also touted his role in creating final adjustments to the “Missing Middle” ordinance which changed zoning and land use rules to accommodate more housing options city-wide. The ordinance was adopted by the council on November 5.  

He also referred to his role in restoring Olympia’s downtown walking patrol and the launch of a mental health crisis response team.

Jones left his position at the state Department of Enterprise Services about 18 months ago to focus on city issues.

Regarding the mental health crisis response team, Jones told Little Hollywood that there will be a city council study session on the initiative on December 4. Implementation of the plan is expected in January.

“Trained first-responders will deescalate and address non-criminal disruptions without police. This will free up police to do their job and provide far more appropriate help to people in crisis. There’s a focus on downtown but the team will be available throughout the city,” he said.

Jones said he will have a campaign kick-off at a later date.

“It’s too early in the calendar for that now - heck we’re still counting (election) ballots. I announced now because I think it’s only fair for others to know what I’m doing,” added Jones.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Chum Salmon Return Home


Above: Reminding us that water is life, chum salmon return home to McLane Creek in Olympia.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

With the month of November comes a reminder that chum salmon are returning home to McLane Creek and Kennedy Creek in south Puget Sound.

Although the salmon begin their journey from the ocean in mid-October and complete it in mid-December, November is the best opportunity to view them close-up and personal. 

Salmon viewing at Kennedy Creek is available only on weekends between 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and the day after Thanksgiving through November 30. 

Salmon viewing at McLane Creek is available everyday.

Thousands of people visit the creek trails to learn more about what makes a healthy salmon habitat and observe spawning and courting behaviors. 

Their dramatic journey is a powerful, moving sight to behold. 

Trained Stream Team Salmon Steward volunteers posted at both McLane Creek and Kennedy Creek this past weekend patiently explained the life cycle of salmon to hundreds of visitors.

Sometimes, they sprinkled in a few friendly jokes with the serious science, using humor to help the facts stick for all ages.

“They find their way back to their stream because of the female, because we all know males suck at directions. Otherwise, the males would be swimming in circles their whole lives around the whole ocean looking for his creek because he won’t ask for directions,” quipped a male Salmon Steward at McLane Creek on Saturday. 

The joke was well received, prompting endless questions for the steward.

Above: People view the salmon from an overlook at McLane Creek. McLane Creek originates in the Black Hills and flows 14.5 miles to Mud Bay, which is located at the southern end of Eld Inlet.

Kennedy Creek is one of the most productive chum salmon production streams in Washington State and is home to four of the seven Pacific salmon species: chum, coho, steelhead, and cutthroat trout.

It borders Thurston and Mason counties with its headwaters in Summit Lake in the Black Hills and empties into Totten Inlet at Oyster Bay.

Normally, the spawning population at Kennedy Creek is between 20,000 and 40,000 salmon.

Spawning adults can produce approximately 30 million to 60 million eggs annually but not all eggs will survive. On average, only two to three individuals will complete their natural life cycle and return to the stream where they hatched.

The salmon normally come to Kennedy Creek before McLane Creek, but this year was different. Little rain this past summer and nearby clear cutting resulting in a possible quicker run off may account for the difference.

The Kennedy Creek trail was developed by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG) with many partners. 

The land is owned by Taylor Shellfish Farms and maintained by Green Diamond Resources. A portion of the property was recently logged.

Rain is supposed to arrive this coming week, swelling the streams, and make navigation easier for the salmon. They don’t mind shallow water, but they need flowing water because it brings oxygen to the eggs. 

The females have a narrow window of time, about two weeks, in which to spawn otherwise the eggs aren’t viable.

Kennedy Creek Natural Area Preserve: For directions from Olympia, go north on 101. At milepost 356, turn left onto Old Olympic Highway. Continue on Old Olympic Highway until you see the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail signs on your left. Go up the forest road, which is now a clear cut, for .75 miles. Turn right into the Trail parking lot.

Dogs are not allowed on the trail. A Washington State Discover Pass is required for parking at this site.

McLane Creek Nature Trail: For directions from Olympia from Highway 101, take the Mud Bay exit. Turn left onto Mud Bay Road NW, turn left onto Delphi Road. Go south on Delphi Road for 3.3 miles. It is open daily. A Washington State Discover Pass is required for parking at this site.

Salmon Stewards say that it is best to leave dogs at home during spawning season as they can spook the salmon. If you bring your dog, keep it leashed and away from live and dead salmon.

Stream Team is a multi-city and county-led environmental education organization. For more information about Stream Team, Salmon Steward docent opportunities, and citizen science activities, go to www.streamteam.info

Above: An American Dipper enjoys the natural, riparian environment at Kennedy Creek. American Dippers are fun to watch as they bob up and down near swift running water, then dive in for food. While completely submerged, they quickly probe the stream bed for aquatic insects, then hop back out.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Centralia School Super Promises to Restore Therapeutic Pool


Above: Former Centralia school board director Neal Kirby, standing, organized a meeting Monday night to hear an update from Centralia School Superintendent Mark Davalos on why a therapeutic whirlpool is still not functioning at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center in Centralia.

Seniors Want Results for Taxes Paid, Hold Superintendent Accountable for Promises

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Over 30 people, most of them seniors, showed up for a meeting Monday night to hear an update on why a therapeutic whirlpool is still not functioning at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center in Centralia.

The whirlpool has not been fully functional for over two years and was finally shut down in June by the county health department.

Before they finally shut it down, the department gave the school district two years to fix it, citing at least 15 different code violations.

Former Centralia school board director Neal Kirby organized the meeting at Thorbeckes because he was frustrated with the school board’s inaction on the issue. 

Centralia School District Superintendent Mark Davalos attended the meeting and brought Eric Wilson, the school district’s facility maintenance director, to provide information on next steps. 

With patience wearing thin, the seniors peppered the two officials with pointed questions and comments.

“This is my fourth year as superintendent and I inherited the issue as I came in….It’s about managing the money and taking care of all our obligations….Sometimes the wheels move slowly,” Davalos explained at the start of the evening.


Above: Brown water sits in the therapeutic whirlpool at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center. The pool has not been fully functional for two years and was shut down in June by the Lewis County Health Department for code violations.

The Centralia Community Pool at Thorbeckes is owned by the Centralia School District, built on City of Centralia property, and operated by Thorbeckes Athletic Club.

The funding mechanism for the pool facility is dependent upon a collaborative agreement among the entities. There are five years left on the ten year agreement and some are worried time might run out and no one will fix the whirlpool.

Kirby, 66, said he has arthritis in his back and keeps fit by hiking and swimming. He enjoyed using the whirlpool after he got out of the pool.

“It’s called a therapeutic whirlpool for a reason. It offers the heat and massage people need, especially for those who have had joint replacements and issues far worse than me,” he said.

“If we don’t fix this, I’m worried that something else won’t get fixed further on down the line. It’s really incumbent upon us to push to make sure this facility is maintained. I hope we can get it working as it was,” said Kirby.

According to the agreement, Thorbeckes pays for minor, internal repairs and maintenance and the school district and city share the cost of major repairs in equal amounts.

The community has repeatedly voted for school levies with pledges to the pool facility.


Above: Seniors enjoy their water aerobics class at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center in Centralia on Monday evening. Later, several participants attended a meeting to hear an update on why a therapeutic whirlpool is still not functioning at the Center.

With 21 classes per week, the facility sees hundreds of water aerobics participants every month with 1,870 in February, said Thorbeckes pool operator Jason Knispel, who attended the meeting.

Davalos said the pool facility costs about $300,000 annually to operate and the school district is committed to its obligations.  

Normally, about $50,000 to $60,000 per month is set aside to cover this cost, but an unexpected $200,000 pool repair last year diverted money from repairing the whirlpool in a timely manner.

“We paid it and ended up spending more than our annual set aside money….We’ve exceeded it a few times in the last few years, and we’ve been under that amount for a few years. We hope repairs will normalize but we’ve been hit with a couple of big costs,” Davalos said about the aging facility. The facility was built in 1978.

Utilities cost the school district and the city each about $40,000 per month.

Next Steps

According to Davalos, the district met with Thorbeckes and the city about a month ago to discuss the replacement of the whirlpool. All parties agreed that was the best course of action.

The district recently hired a firm to perform an analysis on what repairs are needed to bring it up to code. Those repairs would cost $40,000 in parts alone, said Wilson.

It was the firm’s recommendation to replace the entire unit.

Davalos and Wilson said that with the school board’s approval, the district will look into hiring ORB Architects of Tacoma to design and engineer plans for a new whirlpool.

Several individuals with long memories immediately brought up questionable electrical and plumbing issues that have dogged the facility. They balked at using the same firm that was used when the facility was built.

“I’ve been in business 42 years and I’m just seeing a tremendous number of red flags with ORB,” said local businessman and former Chamber of Commerce executive director Dan Duffy. “Personally, I think you’d be wiser to go with someone else or get other bids. I would not seek them out.”

Wilson readily admitted the whirlpool wasn’t built as designed and said other companies could be sought out.

“We’ll take that into consideration,” he said, saying it would take more time, perhaps a couple of months, to research alternative options.

By the end of the meeting, Davalos said that the school district will develop a request for proposals by the end of year, get started at the beginning of the year, and have it operational by mid-spring 2019.

“We’re here because the wheels are in motion…we don’t start something like this unless our intentions are to complete it. We are going to do our due diligence and do the right thing….We’re going to make it happen,” assured Davalos.

Several seniors said they would use the whirlpool for therapeutic reasons if it were repaired.

Seth Knox, Jr., 72, has been a resident of Centralia since 1985. He has had two hip replacements and has a metal plate in his back. He enjoys his water aerobics classes at the Center.

Knox, an Army veteran of the 82nd Airborne, served two tours in Vietnam, two tours in Korea, one in Germany and one in Alaska. 

I would use the whirlpool if it were fixed,” he said.

Joy Dykes, 82, of Centralia, also said she used the whirlpool when it was operational.

“I miss it. I don’t take pills. I don’t like medicine. This is the answer,” she laughed, pointing at the pool. “I do water aerobics three times a week, yoga twice a week, and walk three miles a day in the summer. I do have arthritis really bad in my hands but there are some people who really, really need it,” she said.

Asked after the meeting to clarify water usage details, Wilson said the water usage numbers have always been high due to the nature of the facility. The total water usage for the entire facility reached 47,000 gallons per week.

This includes the pool, whirlpool, a leak in the whirlpool, sinks, showers, toilets, and evaporation factors.

“Over time, the water usage number has increased but significant increase could be attributed to a leak or other issues. Since the spa (whirlpool) has been shut down, the weekly total water usage has significantly decreased and the water bill has been thousands less per month,” said Wilson.

Community journalism in the public interest is needed now more than ever. It also takes time. Little Hollywood, based in Olympia, was asked to attend the Monday night meeting to shine the light on a two year old issue that has not seen local newspaper coverage or action. 

Little Hollywood welcomes news tips and donations in support of issues and concerns involving seniors, veterans, the houseless, and others not often heard in corporate media. Go to https://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com to donate via PayPal or other methods.

Above, far left: Seth Knox, Jr., 72, an Army veteran of the 82nd Airborne who served two tours in Vietnam and two tours in Korea, listens to Centralia School Superintendent Mark Davalos on Monday night.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Truck Damages Downtown Building


Above: A pedestrian walks behind a semi-truck as the driver backs up to negotiate a wider turn onto Capitol Way South in downtown Olympia Tuesday morning. The truck had already hit the buildings metal awning. No one was hurt in the incident.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

A semi-truck moving east on 5th Avenue made too sharp of a turn onto Capitol Way and damaged a building in downtown Olympia Tuesday morning.

The scene at 501-505 Capitol Way South was witnessed and videotaped by Little Hollywood at about 9:20 a.m. 

After the metal awning and its lighting infrastructure was hit, the truck driver with Swanson Bark and Wood Products, Inc. of Longview backed up, negotiated a wider turn, parked, and jumped out to inspect the damage. 

No one was hurt in the incident.  

Little Hollywood contacted building owners and police to make a report. A logistics manager with the truck company said the driver was cited by Olympia police for illegal lane usage.  

The building, built in 1937, is owned by Thurston Building Company. The space, formerly occupied by g. miller men’s clothing store, is currently vacant. The clothing store moved to 111 Market Street NE, Olympia.


Above: Damage to the building at 501-505 Capitol Way South after a semi-truck driver made too sharp of a turn and hit the building Tuesday morning.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Community Service at Nisqually


Above: Members of the Olympia Mountaineers and Rotary Club of Olympia worked together Sunday morning to make the boardwalk a safer experience for visitors at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Unfazed by the rain, the Olympia Mountaineers combined forces with the Rotary Club of Olympia Sunday morning to scrape slippery moss and leaves off the boardwalk at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Both organizations are well known for their stewardship and community service efforts.

It was a welcome collaboration for Peter Yager, Visitor Services Assistant, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After a brief talk about safety, Yager directed the volunteers to areas that needed the most attention.

Pileated woodpeckers, deer, frogs, hawks and eagles made their presence known throughout the morning’s work.

Above: Pacific tree frogs at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.

Later, Yager expressed his appreciation for the group’s efforts, saying the Refuge has only one maintenance worker and one part time Washington Conservation Corps crew worker.

“Twelve volunteers worked three hours for a total of 36 volunteer hours. That’s equivalent to a week’s worth of work. This was serious work that needed to get done,” he said.

Asked how many volunteers come to the Refuge do this sort of work, Yager said he doesnget as many requests to work as he thought he would. Yager came to the Refuge two years ago from Yellowstone National Park.

“I do have a group of middle school kids who come to pull Scotch broom every year and some Boy Scouts come and scrub the signs,” he said.

He welcomed the two organizations back. After all, the leaves are still falling.

For more information on possible service projects at the Refuge, contact Peter Yager, Visitor Services Assistant, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, 100 Brown Farm Road, Olympia, at (360) 753-9467 or peter_yager@fws.gov.

Above: A safer boardwalk for visitors at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge gave volunteers, including this writer, a great deal of satisfaction.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Temporary Olympia Ice Rink Coming Soon


Above: Scheduled to open November 16, a temporary ice rink currently being installed in downtown Olympia is anticipated to draw families and improve business in the downtown area.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Superhero Night? Rock n' Roll Live Music Night? Princess Night with the Lakefair Court? 

Get ready for some fun times in downtown Olympia this winter. 

A new park located on the isthmus at 529 4th Avenue West will become a covered, temporary ice rink from November 16 through January 6.

The rink area is 4,000 sq. ft. and will hold a maximum capacity of 125 skaters. 

In comparison, the iconic Rockefeller Center ice rink in Midtown Manhattan is a little over 7,000 square feet and has a capacity of 150 skaters at one time. 

So move over New York - here comes Oly on Ice!

When the City of Olympia held a brief event this past July in 91 degree weather to celebrate the beginning of the project, it was hard to imagine.

But now, cooler, foggy mornings have set in and City of Olympia Parks & Recreation staff are busy setting up the tent and equipment.

General admission prices with skates range from $12 and lower for youth, toddlers, foster, military, first responder families, and seniors. There will be day time skating hours, cheap skate nights, 10-skate passes and group rates.

Free public parking will be available at the two lots to the immediate east and west of the ice rink. Free street parking can be found along Capitol Lake. During evening and weekend hours, additional free parking is available at all City of Olympia managed lots and metered spots. There are also pay-to-park lots neighboring the rink.

There is no ice rink parking across the street at Bayview Thriftway or other private lots adjacent to the rink.

Temporary restrooms will be available during the run of the ice rink.

To offset the rink’s costs and keep admission fees accessible, the city actively gathered partnerships to pull it all off.

Community sponsors include a mix of large and small local and regional businesses, including the Olympia AutoMall, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Network, Propel Construction, TwinStar Credit Union, Browsers Bookshop, OBEE Credit Union, Graphic Communications, Capital Medical Center, Anthony’s Homeport/Hearthfire, and the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, among others.

Business sponsorship categories ranged between $400 and $10,000. Depending on the amount contributed, businesses have at least one opportunity to have a table or tent set up at the venue sometime during the run of the ice rink.

“We definitely see this project as a great way to involve local businesses and organizations,” said Anna Robinson, marketing program specialist with City of Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation.

“Even the businesses that aren’t in a position to join us as sponsors are really excited about it. Bringing a fun, family-friendly activity to downtown during what is normally a pretty quiet time of year around here really seemed to resonate with people,” she said.

At the ceremony in July, former City of Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs spoke on behalf of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation. The space that became a park was the result of a lot of hard work.

Jacobs thanked the Trust for Public Lands for their assistance in obtaining a $600,000 grant from the Thurston County Conservation Futures Fund, which the Foundation turned over to the city for capital expenditures at the park.

Foundation board members and other donors also provided a $100,000 cash donation to the city for the park’s capital expenses. He also thanked parks staff for working with the Foundation on park design and improvements.

The park is so far unnamed. At the time, Jacobs suggested that it be called the Capitol Olympic Vista Park, in honor of it being in the center of the beautiful view from the State Capitol Building to the Olympic Mountains.

The park is near the privately owned nine story Views on 5th, a mixed use development currently under construction.

The city estimates that 10,000 skaters will visit the rink over the course of the seven week season.

Above: Former City of Olympia mayor Bob Jacobs, right, plays a game of bean bag toss with Luke Burns, City of Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation staff, on July 26 at the city’s new park on the isthmus in downtown Olympia.

For more information about hours and other frequently asked questions, go to OlyonIce.com

For more information about downtown Olympia, the area known as the isthmus, the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, parks, and Views on 5th, go to Little Hollywood at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and use the search button to type in key words.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

New Thurston County Courthouse: 3 Possible Sites Chosen


Above: The choice of locations for a new courthouse has been narrowed to three sites in Olympia. The current Thurston County Courthouse, built in 1978, is nearing the end of its useful life and presents the county with a host of security and maintenance issues.

Thurston County is looking at an estimated $200 million project funded by a property tax 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The choice of locations for a new Thurston County Courthouse has been narrowed down from 12 to three. 

After a three month study, the three sites chosen are:

- The former Olympia city hall on Plum Street, now the Lee Creighton Justice Center, which would be demolished;

- Vacant land owned by developer Jim Morris on Olympia’s westside on Harrison Avenue NW;

- A renovation and expansion of the existing courthouse at 2000 Lakeridge Drive.

In early November, the county will hold a series of community open houses and launch a public online survey. The county commissioners will make a final location choice in December.

The courthouse is required by state law to be located in Olympia.

Ron Thomas, Thomas Architecture Studios, was hired by Thurston County to conduct a feasibility study and public process for the site selection.

A 20 member committee advising the county is comprised of local attorneys, Intercity Transit, the Thurston Chamber of Commerce, the Olympia Lacey Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau, business representatives, and others.

The group determined various issues to consider when choosing a location such as community values, community development and impact to surrounding areas, functionality of the courthouse, transportation and access, and cost sharing opportunities.

Thomas and team members provided several one and a half hour community presentations for the public at the Olympia Center on Tuesday.  

At each session, Thomas reviewed the public process and outreach schedule, site pros and cons and related community impacts, and answered community questions.

Little Hollywood attended two of the daytime community presentation sessions, which were held in a partitioned room that was not wheelchair accessible. The evening meeting was held in a room that was accessible.

Above: On Tuesday, several chalk outlines of bodies led to Superior Court and the Prosecuting Attorney's Office. Yvonne McDonald, 56, was an African American woman found with significant injuries to her body but alive on August 7 in west Olympia. She died later that night. There has been little reported progress in an investigation into her death.

Building the Case for a New Courthouse

Built in 1978, the current courthouse complex is a confusing maze of three buildings with little signage. 

The buildings face significant building design issues with security concerns and failing electrical, plumbing, and heating and ventilation systems. There is a lack of conference rooms for attorneys and advocates meeting with their clients and at certain times, inadequate parking.

The courthouse includes Superior Court, District Court, Drug Court, and the County Clerk.

In what Thomas called the “civic center,” portion of the courthouse, other courthouse services include the Prosecuting Attorney offices, Sheriff’s Department, Public Defense, Assessor, Auditor, Treasurer, Environmental Health, Commissioners, Development Review, Community Planning and Economic Development Department, Human Resources, and Pre-Trial Services.

The Olympia Justice Center is located at the Lee Creighton Justice Center on Plum Street, formerly Olympia City Hall. It contains the City Municipal Court, Probation, City Jail, City Prosecutor, and Court and Parking Judication.

To accommodate all these services in a consolidated location, the new courthouse facility needs an estimated 389,000 square feet, Thomas said, and would need room to expand to accommodate future growth.

The current courthouse employs about 400, but by 2050, that number is expected to reach 500.

Anticipated parking needs will require 1,200 parking spaces in a structured parking garage with height zoning changes. 

For each site, Thomas characterized the property, its pros and cons, and ranked each with a transit access and walking score. The maximum score for transit and pedestrian access was 100.

Above: Current Courthouse Location at 2000 Lakeridge Drive sits on 26 acres, characterized by steep slopes, making only 14 – 15 acres available for construction. Its transit score was 40. Its walking score, 21, was the lowest of the three sites due to its geographic isolation. It is currently served by two Intercity Transit routes, Route 12 and Route 42. The only nearby restaurant is at the Hotel RL. Selection of this site would renovate and expand the courthouse complex in phases while maintaining services.

Above: The former Olympia City Hall site at 900 Plum Street, now the Lee Creighton Justice Center sits on 10 ½ acres with two wetlands. Its transit score ranked 56, the highest of all three sites, due to its proximity to I-5 and multiple Intercity Transit routes and their frequency. It received a walking score of 85, also the highest of the three sites, due to its location near restaurants and other services.

City of Olympia municipal court services and the jail are located here and would be demolished. Built in 1966, the building was designed by noted local architect Robert Wohleb and is featured on tours highlighting mid-century modern architecture.

This location is adjacent to the Yashiro Japanese Garden and a proposed site for a city-owned 24/7 emergency housing space for 40 unsheltered individuals using a mix of tiny homes and tents.

In one presentation, Thomas said the wetlands on the property could be filled in, but their function would have to be made up some other way.

Above: Vacant land near a strip development at 4419 Harrison: 27 acres bound by Harrison Avenue NW and Kaiser and 7th Avenue near the Highway 101 interchange, the land is owned by developer Jim Morris. This location ranked a transit score of 34 and a walking score of 50 because there are stores and services nearby. 

Jay’s Farm Stand and a new strip development owned by Morris are near this option. Tenants of that development include Blue Heron Bakery and Don Juan Mexican Restaurant. Intercity Transit does not currently serve the area.

Instead of structured parking at this site, there is room to create eight acres of surface parking, thus lowering the overall project cost, Thomas said. He added that he didn’t think that was the right thing to do.

An extensive onsite stormwater facility would need to be built if this location was chosen. Roads would also be built north and south and east and west through the property to address connectivity issues.

Community Impact

Wherever the new courthouse is located, it will have a dramatic impact on the area.
  
Whether it is located in a commercial area or residential area, the courthouse will spill out into the area for “blocks and blocks,” catering to employees and clients using courthouse services, Thomas said.

John Vanek, an attorney with the Housing Justice Project program at Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services, a nonprofit arm of the Thurston County Bar Association, provided his thoughts.

Vanek provides free civil legal advice and representation to low-income people facing eviction in Thurston and Mason Counties.

“There is inadequate parking and no meeting space to meet with clients in a confidential location. Many are not familiar with court and they are already traumatized. There is a video screen informing clients of cases but it uses archaic language such as ‘unlawful detainer’ which means eviction. It is not a welcoming space...it is artless,” he said.

Later, he expressed his concerns about locating the new facility on Plum Street, saying the area is built on fill and past core sample results looked like a “gray milkshake.” He also expressed concern that the facility would have a significant impact on the nearby Eastside neighborhood.

One woman, an attorney, said the current courthouse feels dangerous.

“It’s so crowded, stressful and confusing. It needs to be a space that feels safe and secure,” she said. 

She was eager for the project to start and offered suggestions for making the current location more desirable, such as a covered pedestrian bridge linking parking to the facility.

Other suggestions for the new facility besides improved parking, security and added space requirements included an open plaza, an atrium, a central kiosk staffed with a real person to help direct court users, vending machines, and an area for children.

Bob Schwartz of HOK Architects conducted the feasibility study for a new courthouse in 2015.

In an interview after a presentation, Schwartz said he has designed hundreds of courthouses throughout the country in his 35 year career. He recently designed courthouses in Marion County, Indianapolis and Joliet, Illinois, outside Chicago.

“There is a pent up demand for courthouse facilities. Many courthouses date to the era of the WPA (an employment program created by President Roosevelt in 1935). Many are facing issues due to the recession and deferred maintenance, he said. 

Asked which of his most recent courthouse designs could be compared to Thurston County, he said he recently designed the new Kitsap County courthouse in Port Orchard. Thomas Architecture Studios is the firm leading that project as well.

“The region is growing in population and their courthouse needs are very similar - issues of security, code issues, and seismic concerns,” he said.

The $200 Million Dollar Question

The county is looking at an estimated, minimum $200 million project.

Thomas declined to estimate a total project cost for each option, saying that has not yet been determined. Property acquisition costs alone will vary wildly, he said.

There are two options for funding the project. The first is to issue a property tax called a general obligation bond that would require 60 percent of the vote to pass and a 40 percent turnout voting yes.  

The second option is a property tax called a levy lid lift, accomplished with a simple majority vote.

According to the Municipal Research Service Center (MRSC), new state legislation that became effective in June allows cities and counties to exempt senior citizens, disabled veterans, and other people with disabilities as defined in RCW 84.36.381 from a tax increase resulting from a levy lid lift. 

This exemption is optional. If a jurisdiction is planning a levy lid lift and wants to exempt these individuals, it must state the exemption in the ballot measure placed before the voters.

Little Hollywood asked county budget director Robin Campbell on Wednesday what funding route the board of commissioners will choose.

Campbell said the commissioners are leaning toward the levy lid lift because it's a whole lot easier, and would probably consider a property tax exemption for eligible individuals, but added, we're not that far down the road.

Due to another recent legislative change that is special to Thurston County, the levy lid lift would be required to be paid over a period of 25 years instead of the previously required nine years, she said.

When the commissioners choose a funding option, voters will vote on it in August, 2019.

According to a July report in the Kitsap Sun newspaper, an undetermined amount of non-voted bond debt will be used to pay for the Kitsap County courthouse construction.

The report says Thomas shared four design options with the Port Orchard City Council ranging in height from four to seven stories. He cautioned council members that what is eventually built will likely look significantly different given the county's budget constraints and other factors in the planning process.

Open Houses for the Thurston County Courthouse and Civic Center Project  

Several upcoming public open houses are scheduled. On November 6, there will be five sessions with a specific focus for each session. Anyone may attend any session:

9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. (Real Estate and Design), 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (Municipal Employees), 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. (Legal Profession), 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Other Stakeholders), 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (General Public) at Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. SE, Olympia

November 7, 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. at City of Rainier, 102 Rochester St. W, Rainier

November 7, 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at Rochester High School Commons, 19800 Carper Rd. SW, Rochester

Above: John Vanek created and donated his artwork titled, “Justice,” to the City of Olympia as part of the Art in Public Spaces program in 2012. It is at the Lee Creighton Justice Center.

For more information from Thurston County about the Thurston County Courthouse and Civic Center Project, go to https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/bocc/Pages/courthouse-civic-project.aspx

The Center for Court Innovation and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) wrote a report last year assessing the court’s internal processes and facility strengths and weaknesses regarding access to justice. In the report, several recommendations for improvements were made. The report is available at http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt/docs/TCDC_Report.pdf

Recent Little Hollywood interviews of Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim and Prosecuting Attorney candidate Victor Minjares and Thurston County Commission candidate Tye Menser all mention Thurston County Courthouse issues and current law and justice models. Go to https://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type key words into the search button.

For more information about Yvonne McDonald, go to http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2018/08/justice-for-yvonne-mcdonald.html