Site is eyed for Issaquah human services campus
July 31, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The long-gestating plan to build a human services campus in Issaquah is a step closer to reality, as organizers inch closer to selecting a site for the facility.
Supporters envision the campus as a clearinghouse for employment assistance, food aid, health care and other services offered by nonprofit organizations.
The push to open a human services campus in Issaquah started in early 2006.
• Initial discussions begin about how the city can help Eastside Baby Corner, Issaquah Valley Community Services and other nonprofit organizations meet space needs.
• 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.
• City Council members earmark $1 million in impact fees paid by the Talus developer for the human services campus.
• 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.
• Organizers release the survey results from a poll of nonprofit organizations to gauge interest in the campus.
• Leaders rename the Family Resource Center to Together Center.
• Organizers deliver the completed feasibility study to the council, and outline plans to select a site and raise funds.
• Supporters study several sites for a possible campus, and narrow in on a still-undisclosed building.
Sources: City of Issaquah, The Issaquah Press archives
The result could resemble the nonprofit Together Center, a similar campus in Redmond.
John Rittenhouse, a Together Center board member and former Issaquah councilman, said the challenging process to select a location for the Issaquah campus is almost complete.
“The key challenge has been finding a site that’s easily accessible to the community and that meets the needs of our key partners so that they, in turn, can meet the needs of those they help,” he said in a July 24 briefing to City Council members.
Organizers considered about 10 locations and then scrutinized three properties in more detail. The properties under consideration included land for sale and for lease, and undeveloped land.
Rittenhouse said the proper zoning is in place at the top choice and the building is accessible from public transit. Stakeholders — and representatives from possible tenants — toured the location and approved the site.
“Because we’re considering entering into negotiations and those negotiations carry some confidentiality with them, we prefer not to divulge where the property is or who the current leaseholder or property owner is at this time,” Rittenhouse said in response to Councilman Mark Mullet’s question at the Committee-of-Whole-Council meeting.
The next step is for the Together Center and human services campus organizers to negotiate a long-term lease.
Campus embodies vision
Together Center Executive Director Pam Mauk said a 20-year lease is ideal for the human services campus, although the actual term depends on the location and the leaseholder.
“On our mind is how much either the city would care to invest for what period of time, similar to other donors,” she said. “Let’s make a reasonable time period for this much investment and, in my mind, 20 years is the minimum. But again, it’s one of the variables in looking at property in terms of what we want to move forward on or what isn’t enough time of a lease period.”
The process to plan a human services campus started in 2006, before the economic meltdown — and a before a deluge of requests to local aid organizations.
“We have gone through this seeing the need continue to exponentially increase on the Eastside,” Rittenhouse said.
Leaders acknowledged the long process to create a human services campus in Issaquah. The issue has emerged throughout the years as a goal for council members.
“These things, we knew at the beginning, would not be easy,” Councilman Fred Butler said. “But one thing that has impressed me is the fact that there has been progress — although not very visible from time to time — but there has been progress as it’s moved forward.”
If the human services campus does not come to fruition, the backup plan is to use the money for affordable housing.
Rittenhouse told council members to expect another update about campus progress come autumn.
“That will be a tollgate for us, because if the financials don’t pencil out, we would not continue with the negotiations,” he said. “If they do pencil out, then we could at that time come back and give you an update and give you a better sense of how long we may be negotiating before there’s a way to put a bright, new sign on the building that says ‘Issaquah human services campus.’”