PenMet setting stage for Fox Island park improvements

Posted on June 15th, 2023 By:

PenMet Parks stepped recently toward improving and potentially expanding Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve on Fox Island.

PenMet commissioners on June 6 approved a $341,000 deal with an architectural and engineering firm to create a master plan for the park. The board also devoted $1.2 million to constructing the highest priorities identified in the plan.

The commissioners at their previous meeting on May 16 authorized staff to pursue a grant to help buy two properties adjacent to the park. The parks district has been  trying to acquire the properties since last summer.

Tacoma firm hired to create master plan

PenMet hired Baumwelt to perform the master plan. Its work will be divided into two facets, according to PenMet Director of Parks Services Dennis Ryan:

  • Up to $121,000 for master planning, including site investigation, code analysis, property restrictions, community engagement and prioritizing projects;
  • A maximum $220,000 to support design and construction, including documents, permitting and assistance during building of the highest priorities.
Concrete block building at Fox Island sandspit park

A master plan will likely determine the best use of the old “bunkhouse,” with input from the community.

Among likely priorities are accessibility, parking and the fate of the concrete block “bunkhouse” building, so called because of its previous DeMolay use. Because its restrooms aren’t ADA compliant, it is now relegated to storage. Community engagement will help determine its future, said Ryan.

Plan will take about six months

The master plan is expected to be completed in about six months.

“We’re going to have a kickoff meeting in the coming weeks,” Ryan said. “It’s a very busy time for us, with the (Community Recreation Center). We have a move. We have a groundbreaking. We’re just getting it all organized, one thing at a time.”

rules sign at Fox Island sandspit park

The sandspit park is managed to protect the fragile beach.

PenMet’s top priority is the community recreation center. Phase 1 of the $31.6 million project is nearly complete. It comprises renovating the former Performance Golf Center building to be used as the district’s headquarters and multipurpose community space.

The second phase will be a 58,300-square-foot building containing an indoor turfed soccer/football field, three multipurpose gymnasium courts, an elevated walking/jogging track and more community area. A bid request was issued on June 5. PenMet intends to award a construction contract on July 18. Permitting is progressing, with a building permit expected to be granted this month, it was announced at the June 6 meeting.

One response to request

Consultants are just as busy as the parks district, resulting in a lone master plan submission from 281 requests for qualifications.

“We checked with several of our consultants, both current and past,” Ryan said. “We heard that during the COVID pandemic, several clients put projects on hold because they didn’t know what the outcome of the pandemic would be. Work is just picking up. These consultants have a very robust workload. Everybody’s busy. But we’re very excited and very happy with the consultant we hired.”

Fox Island sandspit beach where it would be extended with more property

PenMet is pursuing a grant to help purchase two adjacent waterfront properties to the west of the park.

PenMet has shown interest for about a year in buying two waterfront properties immediately west of the sandspit park at 52 and 58 Island Boulevard. They each include a 760-square-foot cabin built in 1950. Combined, they total 3.6 acres with 265 feet of shoreline. Owner Fox Go Bye Bye, LLC, of Tacoma expressed a desire to sell to PenMet last spring and make the land available for public use.

Seeking bigger grant

The board approved the $2.5 million purchase at a July 25 special meeting, contingent on the district receiving a $2.5 million Pierce County Conservation Futures Opportunity Account grant. Such grants allow districts to pursue “exceptional conservation futures properties” that become available outside of the normal biannual selection process that won’t be viable by the beginning of the next application period. The Pierce County Council awarded the district a $538,000 grant on Nov. 8, said county spokeswoman Andriana Fletcher.

Kayakers paddle and beachcombers search at Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Preserve.

Kayakers paddle and beachcombers search at Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Preserve.

Given the large funding gap, the board authorized Executive Director Ally Bujacich at its May 16 meeting to apply for another Conservation Futures grant during the regular selection cycle. The deadline was May 24. According to the resolution, “PenMet Parks desires to participate in this grant program to the greatest extent possible as a means of supplementing the funds necessary to purchase the Island Blvd. properties.” It asked for about $2 million.

Won’t know until fall

County code doesn’t allow for a project to receive funds from both the Opportunity Account and the regular selection process, said Fletcher and Bujacich. They can’t be used together. Because PenMet has reapplied for the 2023 cycle, it would only qualify for its current application and forfeit the previous grant, they said.

Requests will be evaluated in the fall and awarded around the first of the year.

A bulkhead like this one built in the 1960s in which a wall is built and filled in behind would not be allowed to be built today, or probably even allowed to be refilled.

Pierce County Conservation district is wrapping up a preliminary design to replace an old bulkhead and restore the beach.

PenMet is partnering with Pierce Conservation District to envision a shoreline restoration project at the sandspit park. At a Nov. 15 study session, the conservation district and consultant Blue Coast Engineering presented three options of how to address up to 600 feet of failing bulkhead to benefit public access and improve Puget Sound’s health.

The conservation district recommended Concept 3. The parks board agreed. The option would most fully return the shoreline to its natural state by removing the main concrete bulkhead along the shoreline nearest the spit and a fallen concrete bulkhead farther to the southwest. It would create a seamless, gradual slope between the beach and the uplands. The slope would come at the expense of half of the 9,500 square feet of picnic area lawn.

Shoreline renovation design nearing completion

The board gave the conservation district the go-ahead to narrow the 60% preliminary design to the preferred option. It’s wrapping up now, Ryan said. It will be presented to the board, which will determine whether and how to proceed. The board won’t make any decisions until the master plan is completed to assure that the two mesh.

“The master plan is really going to play into that,” Ryan said. “Where is the best place for beach access, for example. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves in the processes.”

The conservation district will retain the lead on the shoreline renovation and be responsible for funding. It acquired grants for a feasibility study and the preliminary design. The master plan priorities will not include the project.

PenMet, which formed in 2004, purchased the sandspit site from Tacoma DeMolay in 2010.