Moving Bellingham offices to Federal Building could cost $3M in upgrades

The  Federal Building in downtown Bellingham, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The city-owned building is 100 years old.
The Federal Building in downtown Bellingham, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The city-owned building is 100 years old. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

By next summer some city offices could move into the historic Federal Building, if the first floor gets upwards of $3 million in repairs in coming months.

Public Works soon will ask City Council for $1 million to supplement $2.2 million already authorized for the project for 2014, said Eric Johnston, assistant director of public works.

To move the Public Works and engineering employees from their current space in City Hall to offices in the iconic building at 104 W. Magnolia St. the city will need to upgrade the first floor’s mechanical, electrical and communications systems, Johnston said.

The proposed $3.2 million work also will include renovating the first floor into high-quality office space with bicycle storage for employees.

“We’re taking space that was used for years by the federal government and converting it to Class A office space,” Johnston said.

The work represents the second of four planned phases for upgrading the 1913 building, which the city bought for $1 in 2004 from the federal General Services Administration. As part of that purchase, the city got a federal grant of $2.6 million for basic renovations completed during the first phase of improvements.

The building is one of about 70 places in Whatcom County on the National Register of Historic Places.

Whenever the city puts work into the building, the challenge is to also find ways to do historic preservation, Johnston said.

As part of phase two, a historic skylight that was long ago covered up and sealed off will be restored to bring natural light into the space.

Future work will include more preservation of the building’s character. The Italian Renaissance-style building features a steel form covered with masonry, round arches, decorated cornices and detailed exterior designs.

In all, the renovations and preservation plan for the building could run the city about $20 million.

If the additional $1 million is approved, the city could start taking construction bids for the first-floor project in November, and the city offices could move into the space around May 2015, Johnston told City Council Monday, Sept. 22.

The cost of renovating the first floor to move people into the building was originally expected to come in around $8 million, but the city had to scale back its plans, which would’ve included improvements for the basement and a locker room next to ground-floor bicycle storage, Johnston said.

“It doesn’t remove the need for those improvements, it just pushes them to a future time frame,” Johnston said.

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