OP/ED: Questions for Manzanita Listens Community Meetings

By Randy Kugler

The Manzanita Listens survey results finds that citizens believe that building cost is by far the single most important factor for the City to consider in moving forward with this project. (pg. 14 of the Manzanita Listens Survey results).

Significant numbers of citizens continue to want to be presented with specific building options and their associated costs including a remodel option in order to insure that the Mayor and Council make a decision that reflects the desires of the citizens who will be paying for this facility.  

For three years, the City has engaged in a campaign of misinformation about the potential of a remodel option which remains as a practical and economical construction option to complete this project in a timely manner. Perhaps the most egregious example of this flood of misinformation occurred at the March 4, 2020 Council Workshop where Councilor Nuttall gave his report to the City Council on the City of Sweet Home remodel of a former Forest Service Ranger Station for their new City Hall which was occupied in August 2019Councilor Nuttall: “ I talked with the city manager there at length about the project… The Sweet Home example of a school where they didn’t even replace the sheet rock on the inside, they didn’t replace the plumbing, they had bathrooms… I told the folks I feel it’s a false narrative and it’s not really appropriate to be using it”.

These are the facts: In 2017, Sweet Home purchased the 12,590 sq ft Forest Service Ranger Station built in 1985 for $750,000 which also includes 5 acres of property. The City spent approximately $1.2 million to totally remodel the building including a total reconfiguration of the interior floor space for new City office functions. The new space will meet the City’s needs for approximately 50 years.
According to Sweet Home City Manager Ray Towry“ The City had considered constructing a new building, but did not believe it could be done as efficient financially”.
“I’m ecstatic about finally getting this building opened,” Mayor Greg Mahler said. “It has takena lot of time, effort and hard work to get to this day, but it is worth it. It is a gorgeous building and I think the citizens of Sweet Home are going to be very proud of it”.
The Ranger Station structurally is identical to the Underhill School as a single story wood frame building. The only design difference is that the Ranger Station has a 30” crawl space under the floor rather than being constructed on a concrete slab.
The three citizens authorized by Mayor Scott to investigate the structural condition of the school agreed to Councilor Nuttall’s request to have an architect of his choosing accompany the group to further examine the structural condition of the school given it is over 30 years older than the Sweet Home building. The concern being that as an older structure, there would be rot, water or insect damage or other structural problems that would not make the school a good candidate for a remodel. The group found none of these conditions and the architect remarked how surprised he was of the good structural condition of the building and that the interior could easily be reconfigured for reuse.
The misleading report delivered by Councilor Nuttall to the Council on March 4 is especially disturbing. “they didn’t even replace the sheetrock on the inside” which appears to try and suggest that Sweet Home had to do little remodeling to complete and convert the building to their City Hall.
The following are the elements of the completed Sweet Home remodel at a cost of $95 per square foot: 
100% replacement of the following: The building heating, ventilation and cooling system. The electrical system including new ceiling light fixtures and an outside port for future connection of an emergency generator. Plumbing systems including remodeling the existing public restroom to be ADA compliant and addition of a single use employee only restroom including a shower.
Flooring (carpet), building insulation, new insulated ceiling and new painting throughout. All new interior windows in the inside office work spaces and construction of all of the case work in the central office for cabinets for storage and stationing office equipment.
Over 75% of the drywall for walls replaced. Over 70% of the building doors replaced. Over 50% of the building windows replaced. Upgraded approximately 30% of the building to a seismic class 3 rating.
Councilor Nuttall and the rest of the Council apparently feel that the Sweet Home remodel is a “false narrative and not really appropriate” and Manzanita citizens should not even have the opportunity to consider a remodel here even after Mr. Nuttall’s architect expressed a positive impression of the school’s structural condition. The Council believes that new build options at $500 – $600 per sq ft. are the only choices available to the community.
Councilor Nuttall’s architect has recently informed me that based on his initial review of the Underhill School and the work that his company has done on similar public projects, he would propose a rough budget of $120-160 per sq ft. to renovate the Underhill School. This would be in line with the $95 per sq ft. for the Sweet Home remodel as there are other costs identified in the WRK engineering report that were not necessary in Sweet Home (ie new roofing, siding, foundation repair). O’Brien & Company is an experienced local firm and has completed public construction and remodel projects in Nehalem, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, Arch Cape and Tillamook.
A total remodel of an expanded Underhill School of approximately 8,700 sq. ft. to accommodate future space needs for the next 30 years containing all new energy efficient systems, structurally repaired to meet current codes, strengthened to a Class 3 seismic rating and containing a 910 sq . ft. meeting space dedicated for community groups could be achieved for less than half the cost of what the City estimates as the cost for a smaller new building that only meets our immediate space needs. For another approximately $275,000, a totally remodeled Quonset hut could be had providing the City with an additional 2,500 sq. ft. of community meeting and emergency storage and sheltering space.
After the 127 page WRK report produced by structural engineer Brian Knight was reviewed by the Council, the City retained John Doyle of Stricker Engineering to get a second opinion on the school’s structural condition. In a 3 minute presentation to the Council followed up with a 2 page “report” 3 months later, Mr. Doyle who is not a structural engineer concluded that “remodels are always more expensive” and recommended demolishing the structure. Mr. Doyle’s generalizations on remodels in light of Sweet Home’s successful remodel demonstrate his lack of qualifications to offer any objective comments on the school, yet the City continues to reference his “report” as justification to not consider a remodel option.
Citizens who will be participating in the upcoming Manzanita Listens zoom meetings should be asking;
Why are we not being given more options to consider including a remodel option?
Why has factual information on a remodel of the Underhill School been selective, withheld and misrepresented?