Community Government

PenMet hires firm to build community recreation center

Posted on July 19th, 2023 By:

PenMet Parks commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a construction contract for the community recreation center’s second phase and to place a levy lid lift on the November ballot. The moves came during a general meeting at the Arletta Schoolhouse where several people rallied to support a fired parks employee.

$20.7 million deal

The board awarded a $20.7 million CRC contract to Jody Miller Construction. The Spanaway firm submitted the lowest of five bids, which ranged up to $25.5 million. It agreed to begin work within 10 days of written notice and complete the project in 13 months, according to documents.

Interior design of PenMet Parks' future community recreation center.

Interior design of PenMet Parks’ future community recreation center. Courtesy of PenMet Parks

The $31.6 million community recreation center is the largest project undertaken by the 19-year-old park district. It is being built on the 17-acre former Performance Golf Center site that PenMet bought in 2019 for an additional $4.3 million.

Phase 1 comprises renovating the existing building, which will become PenMet headquarters and community space. That work is nearing completion. Phase 2 will be a new 58,300-square-foot structure housing a turfed soccer/football field, three multipurpose gymnasium courts, an elevated walking/jogging track and spaces for community gathering.

Bids remained within range despite obstacles

Pierce County approved the building permit on June 13.

Other budgeted costs include $1.9 million in sales tax, $4.3 million for architectural, engineering and consultant fees, and a $1.1 million contingency. Funding sources comprise $11.6 million from the district’s capital projects fund, $16.6 million in bonds, and $4 million in public and philanthropic support.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the deal. Laurel Kingsbury was absent.

Sketch of PenMet Parks' community recreation center looking from the north with the existing Performance Golf building in the background.

PenMet is near to completing renovation of the former Performance Golf Center building in Phase 1 of its community recreation center and later this summer will begin building Phase 2. Courtesy of PenMet Parks

“The project lived through COVID, supply issues, inflation,” said Commissioner Amanda Babich. “It was a very satisfying moment to learn the bid came in under the maximum construction cost (of $24.3 million).”

Board President Steve Nixon echoed Babich, stating: “One of the biggest challenges was the COVID situation. Developing the project budget and maintaining the project budget to have bids come in at or below the max was exceptional work.”

Support for fired worker

About a dozen people appeared Tuesday wearing black T-shirts imprinted with “Save Stardio” to support reinstatement of Stardio Wilson, who was fired in early June.

Wilson, 23, worked for the district for four years as a part-time grounds specialist and was promoted to full time around the beginning of 2023. He was completing a 6-month probation period when he was let go. A flyer handed out Tuesday states the district’s reason for terminating him was “your behavior and performance is not likely to improve, and progressive attempts to improve your performance through coaching and counseling have not been effective.” The flyer says the description is “akin to character assassination.”

Stardio Wilson

Stardio Wilson

Tara Ament, president of Teamsters Local 313, said she and Wilson met with PenMet leaders and debunked a list of allegations, but he was fired two days later.

Six people spoke on Wilson’s behalf during Tuesday’s public comment period. They said he’s a hard worker, positive, fun, nice, loved by coworkers and willing to learn. Adopted at age 7 from Liberia, he sends money to his biological family in Africa, they said.

“He is the kindest soul I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with,” said Chuck Greenawalt. “We all love this guy and miss him dearly.”

Stardio said the feeling is mutual and he just wants his job back.

“I like the employees,” he said. “They’re the reason why (he wants to return).”

Complaint before state commission

Executive Director Ally Bujacich said she could not speak to personnel issues. Board President Nixon also declined to address the Wilson termination because Teamsters Local 313 has filed an unfair labor practice with the state Public Employee Relations Commission, he said. However, he issued a general statement.

Nixon said PenMet follows state and federal laws regarding employment and employee relations. It uses a human relations consultant and recently hired an HR generalist. In addition to general counsel, the district has hired counsel specific to labor and employment law to assure it complies with laws and procedures. It also follows PenMet’s own procedures and policies.

PenMet commissioners Kurt Grimmer, Steve Nixon, Missy Hill and Amanda Babich at Tuesday's board meeting. Laurel Kingsbury was absent.

PenMet commissioners Kurt Grimmer, Steve Nixon, Missy Hill and Amanda Babich at Tuesday’s board meeting. Laurel Kingsbury was absent.

“It is my intention to see that the board supports the district response to the ULP process with PERC, that we continue to bargain in good faith and that we respond as appropriate to any complaints from employees that come to the board through established policies and procedures,” he said.

Renewal of expiring lid lift

The board also voted 4-0 to place a levy lid lift on the Nov. 7 general election ballot that would allow it to restore its property tax rate of 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2024 and to increase the levy amounts up to 6% for the five succeeding years instead of the 1% state limit.

When residents voted to form the district in 2004, they agreed to pay 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to fund it. When property values rose, the $.75 rate was reduced to stay within the state’s 1% limit. In 2017, PenMet asked voters to pass a lid lift similar to this one. Fifty-four percent voted yes. It expires this year.

Even with the limit bumped from 1% to 6%, rising property values can erode the tax rate. This year, PenMet could only levy a $.58 rate. To boost it by $.17 back to the full $.75 would cost the owner of an average $865,753 Gig Harbor home $149 per year, to a total of $657.

PenMet says the lid lift is needed to keep pace with inflation and population growth. The population has grown nearly 25% since 2000 and inflation has averaged 2.8% since 2004, said Executive Director Bujacich.

After PenMet’s rate returned to $.75 with the first levy lid lift in 2018, it dropped in succeeding years until it reached $.58 this year. Soaring values made up for the declining rate, however, as the park district’s revenues climbed each year from $6 million in 2018 to $8.4 million in 2023.

Difference would be $17.8 million

Without the levy lid lift, PenMet would collect $17.8 million less in property taxes over six years, assuming a 2.5% annual increase in property values, Bujacich said.

The board and staff predict that unless the district’s revenues keep pace with inflation and population growth, it won’t be able to acquire, provide, improve and maintain its parks, facilities, programs and services as prioritized by residents, including access to trails and open space, saltwater beaches and water-based recreation, parkland amenities that support diverse recreational activities, and programming for all residents, including seniors, adults, youths and vulnerable populations, the resolution states.

“I think it’s important that voters have the opportunity to have this in front of them,” Commissioner Babich said.

PenMet's board meeting Tuesday drew a full house to the Arletta Schoolhouse.

PenMet’s board meeting Tuesday drew a crowd to the Arletta Schoolhouse. Like in school, nobody wants to sit in the front row.

Board President Nixon said between 2007 and 2012, PenMet acquired 15 of its 22 properties. The majority were undeveloped or underdeveloped. Many facilities required significant maintenance or updates. When he was elected in 2015, he saw the district was lacking in infrastructure, staffing and funding to support operations and maintain properties. The 2017 levy lid lift was the beginning of steps to address the shortcomings.

Nobody spoke about the lid lift during the public comment period.