Pierce County’s New Plan for Lincoln District Offices

Last November Pierce County voters told the County they didn't support a proposal that would have consolidated many of the Coutny's offices and services under one new roof on the site of the old Puget Sound Hospital building at South 36th and Pacific. That was an advisory vote, so it wasn't technically binding, but it effectively put an end to plans for the angular new building the County wanted to construct to consolidate services and improve accessibility and operational efficiency for county residents.

This week the County announced a new proposal, involving a kind of musical chairs of county services offices, and the demolition of several existing buildings. 

According to The News Tribune, the County would sell two buildings it owns on Pacific Avenue just south of 36th Street to South Sound 911. Those two buildings currently house the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department and the County's Community Connections social services department. SS 911 would knock down those buildings to build a new facility for its six regional emergency call centers.

The County would use money from the sale of those buildings to demolish the old Puget Sound Hospital building, which sits just north of them, on the other side of 36th. This is the same site where the County had hoped to build the facility voters said no to in November. At this point it doesn't sound like there are any plans to rebuild on this site.

The displaced Health Department and Community Connections offices would relocate across the street to an existing building, which the County would buy, leasing space to the Health Department.

The original plan was designed to consolidate services and improve operational efficiencies, saving the County money, and making services more accessible to residents. This plan doesn't sound like it would immediately do that, but it would deal with the old hospital building, which has been cited as a nexus of crime in the neighborhood.

The TNT says within 60 days SS 911 expects to know whether the site would suit its needs. If it does, the plan can move ahead. That process would include a series of community meetings held by the County to take comments from neighborhood residents and others on the new plan, which would ultimately need County Council approval to move forward.

The last plan didn't go so well - in part due to a feeling on the part of the public that Pierce County hadn't been transparent enough with its process, and didn't ask for input until the project was nearly a done deal. It sounds like the County may have taken a lesson from that failure to communicate. We'll see how they do on this go-around.

What do you think of the emerging plan?

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Demolition of a deteriorating aging building that harbors petty crime (check).  Consolidation of two departments to one (check).  Consolidation of SIX 911 call centers to a single facility (check).  My only question is the dollars.  What is the initial capital investment, and what are the annual operational savings?  Is there a remaining lifespan to the existing buildings to be demolished, or are we looking at aging infrastructure and mechanical systems that have already exceeded their useful life and are incredibly inefficient?  These would be good things to know.  Although I never voiced a concern about the previous county campus plan, I had concerns, because I’ve been to Pierce County Sewer at Chambers Bay, NEXT to the wastewater treatment plant (appropriate), and they have VERY nice new office space already, so I wondered why they needed to consolidate ALL of their departments to one campus.  If we’re upgrading old, crumbling offices while throwing money out the window on inefficient HVAC units and leaky windows while constantly repairing leaks, please use our public tax dollars wisely and co-locate these departments into a newer building.  But, also, be forthcoming.  Tell us your plans and give us some details.  Thanks!

March 16, 2016 at 2:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Pierce County’s population has more than doubled since the County-City Building opened in the 1950s, replacing the old classic courthouse.  Like a bank, county leaders could ponder opening branches of essential services offices, like the treasurer, auditor, and assessor, at satellite campuses in Lakewood and Puyallup, by the Sounder line.  The county should ponder creating a building for the executive and council on the vacant lot between Freighthouse Square and the Tacoma Dome Hotel, making it accessible to the broad public to engage their elected officials, working with the property owner that as a prime tenant the county might get favorable terms for either lease or part-ownership at that site because of the draw it would represent..  The remaining offices could be consolidated at the Puget Sound Hospital site in buildings designed and built with quality materials but not needless embellishments. The focus at that location should include integrating small businesses in the ground floor spaces to improve the safety and security of that Lincoln District location, plus to generate revenue.  The public should be encouraged to ride Sounder to attend county public meetings and secure public services, such as paying taxes, getting a marriage license or registering a motor vehicle.  Reducing commuter trips for the public to obtain county services should be a priority in planning.  Advances in technology should be factors in decisions for how the county manages its need for offices that are designed to serve the public.  Those considerations might also help reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve access to county services.  With careful management, Pierce County can build facilities for public service that are financially responsible with more accessibility for citizens without charges that such plans are just Taj Mahal-style fiascoes.

March 21, 2016 at 8:57 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Joe, you are definitely on to something - ground level retail integrated into the building and a site with permanent transit access.  Both are fantastic ideas.  I honestly don’t expect many people to use Sounder (at least not initially) to do stuff at the courthouse.  There simply is not enough of a population base around the Pierce Co stations, nor enough frequency (currently) to make it reliable.  Give it 20 years, it will come.  The Sounder would be a great commute option for employees with most of the trips coming during peak commute times.  Schedules and working hours could be tailored to the train schedule.  The ground level retail, in addition to creating revenue and adding security to the building and surroundings, provides an essential service to employees and often the general public visiting the courthouse who will inevitably be going to lunch on a daily basis and may often try to run errands - like going to the bank - on their lunch hour.

March 22, 2016 at 8:47 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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How about a new Amtrak station on that lot?

March 22, 2016 at 4:23 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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