Supporters outline future for human services campus

April 5, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The push to select a location and raise dollars to build a long-planned human services campus in Issaquah — envisioned as a clearinghouse for employment assistance, food aid, health care and more — should start in earnest this spring and summer after years spent on discussions and studies.

Organizers plan to launch a fundraising campaign for the campus, identify anchor tenants and, most critically, select property or a building to house the facility.

John Rittenhouse

The result could resemble the nonprofit Together Center, a similar campus in Redmond. In 2007, Issaquah leaders and the Together Center — then called the Family Resource Center — partnered to spearhead a feasibility study for a campus in Issaquah.

Together Center Executive Director Pam Mauk and John Rittenhouse, a former Issaquah councilman and a Together Center board member, presented the study to City Council members March 29.

“So, what does the study conclude?” Rittenhouse asked. “It concludes that a human services campus being sited in Issaquah is feasible. Under all scenarios that were studied by the consultants, a campus is doable in Issaquah.”

Plans for the campus hinge on the location, and whether organizers opt to build a campus or lease space in existing structures.

“The study shows there are a number of paths we can take that will lead to a successful completion to meet the community needs,” Rittenhouse said.

The study described some of the most urgent needs in Issaquah, especially due to the population boom in the area and local governments’ financial constraints. The presentation at the Committee-of-the-Whole Council meeting focused on the next steps for the proposed campus.

“All people need human services — rich people, poor people — we all use services,” Mauk said. “People have children, people require medical and dental care, people have stresses or serious mental-health issues. A human services campus is ideal for all communities, and serves individuals and families of every stripe.”

Cost for campus could vary

The price tags Rittenhouse and Mauk presented range from $1 million for a lease to $11 million to build a 20,000-square-foot facility, though the total cost could change if a donor offers land or a building to the project.

Other options outlined in the study include $8.2 million to purchase and renovate a 32,000-square-foot space or $4.3 million to do the same to a 16,000-square-foot space.

The study presents leasing a site as the least-costly option. Organizers could rent 16,000 square feet for $1 million or 32,000 square feet for $1.8 million.

“Our consultants tell us if we have a site in mind, it’s a much easier fundraising effort,” Rittenhouse said. “So, when we talk about securing a site and securing the idea of a site — something that can be presented to fundraisers — makes it a much more compelling story and makes it much easier.”

Organizers said the Together Center is pursuing partners to share in the cost and reaching out to community members to launch the fundraising campaign.

“The major takeaway from the study is that each scenario can work well, depending on whether property or funds are raised, and at what level,” Rittenhouse said.

Issaquah leaders earmarked $1 million to the project in 2008 and, so far, authorized $35,000 from the fund to complete the feasibility study.

(If the human services campus does not come to fruition, the backup plan is to use the money for affordable housing.)

Study alleviates concerns

Organizers enlisted The NonprofitCenters Network, a San Francisco-based consultant, to conduct the study. Consultants interviewed Mayor Ava Frisinger, council members and municipal staffers as part of the process.

“I was very, very concerned about the study initially,” Councilman Fred Butler said after the presentation, as city Human Services Commission members and representatives from nonprofit organizations sat in the audience. “We had lots of conversations around the scope and everything, but I’m delighted that you’re beginning to identify some anchor tenants that would be interested.”

The proposed Issaquah campus attracted interest from 14 organizations in a preliminary survey. Many more nonprofit organizations also requested additional information about the project.

Organizations plan for the campus to be open to human services groups and other nonprofit organizations.

“This expanded scope will provide added benefits, and provide flexibility over time to meet needs as they develop,” Rittenhouse said.

The campus is meant to focus uncoordinated human services programs in Issaquah.

“Whether looking at homelessness or addiction, one-stop access to services is important,” Mauk said.

Moreover, organizations located at the campus could share office equipment and facilities — and reduce operating costs. Mauk said a nonprofit campus keeps lease rates as low as possible.

The campus concept could also help clients using public transportation, if the facility is near bus routes.

“Transportation barriers are particularly difficult for low-income people, but all people benefit from garnering help at one location with easy access, lots of expertise and cross referrals,” Mauk said.

Organizers said a pressing demand exists for such a campus in Issaquah, especially amid human service cutbacks from county and state governments.

Of the 67,000 people served at the Together Center in 2009, the figure included 1,186 Issaquah residents.

From the study, “we learned Issaquah has a much higher level of poverty than many of us may be aware,” Mauk said at the meeting.

Issaquah human services campus timeline

The push to open a human services campus in Issaquah started in early 2006. Since then, community leaders and elected officials embarked on a detailed process to turn the campus from a vision into reality.

2006

  • Initial discussions begin about how the city can help Eastside Baby Corner, Issaquah Valley Community Services and other nonprofit organizations meet space needs.
  • Organizers send a survey to 45 nonprofit organizations, and 15 agencies report immediate or possible interest in the Issaquah campus.

2007

  • The city Economic Vitality Task Force endorses the human services campus concept for Issaquah.
  • Organizers vote to put the Issaquah campus under the legal umbrella of the Family Resource Center, a nonprofit Redmond human services campus.

2008

  • City Council members earmark $1 million in impact fees paid by the Talus developer for the human services campus.

2009

  • The city Human Services Commission recommends the city join the Family Resource Center to conduct a feasibility study. The council later allots $35,000 to the center to conduct the study.

2010

  • The Family Resource Center releases the results of a survey of local nonprofits to gauge interest in the campus.

2011

  • Organizers deliver the completed feasibility study to the council, and outline plans to select a site and raise funds.

Sources: City of Issaquah, The Issaquah Press archives

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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