Parks district pursues busy agenda


While talk of building a multi-million-dollar Baker Field replacement for the current community center has died down for the moment, the self-improvement drive at the Point Roberts parks district continues unabated.

Adding storage space, septic system improvements that would allow community use of the kitchen, changes to the seniors’ lunch program and seismic upgrades were just part of a hyper-active agenda discussed at their meeting on Monday, February 13 at the community center.

Former parks board chair and current Point Roberts Taxpayers Association president Mark Robbins who had previously asked to address the current board on seismic upgrades to the community center was first on deck.

Robbins had been on the board when the district first considered seismic upgrades to the building, a matter that he feels was left unresolved. “My concern is that with new commissioners over the years, there isn’t a good institutional memory of the organization, and I want to make sure the present board commissioners are aware of the history,” said Robbins.

He told the board that in 2013, due to concerns raised by the Whatcom Council on Aging, an initial seismic assessment was done by structural engineers on the building, but due to a lack of funding and budgetary priorities, the complete series of recommended repairs were never completed. Some of the recommendations were fulfilled during earlier work on the building but still others remain to be completed.

The upgrades would only protect inhabitants in the building during an earthquake but would not necessarily protect the building itself. Robbins recommended that the current board should obtain updated cost estimates for the remaining steps. In Robbins’ recollection, there was an additional $40,000 worth of work remaining to be done.

In an email to Robbins after the meeting, parks chair Mitch Friedman wrote, “We understand the gravity of what upgrading the seismic structure to an old building such as the community would do and the implications of not doing that. The board is serious in being mindful of the wellbeing of the community. We will review the documents you produced and the plans/designs from the previous assessment. There will be genuine conversation and deliberation on this matter in the near future.” 

Following a discussion about the continuing need for storage space, the board unanimously agreed to rent a 10-foot by 8-foot storage space for $125/month from Lorne Nielson. “We can’t really get into the electrical room because it is so packed. We’re busting at the seams here,” said commissioner Kathleen Friedman. The board’s approval sparked an angry interjection by Leigh Moorhouse who said it was “a bad decision.” Moorhouse, a local contractor, offered to build a storage shed herself if the district would supply the materials. She later apologized for her outburst and said her biggest concern with the board was that it wasn’t keeping the community involved in its decision-making.

The bi-weekly senior lunch program will soon be looking the way it used to look. Based on a directive from the Whatcom Council on Aging which oversees the lunch program, the Wednesday and Friday lunches will be going back to the previous in-person format. During the pandemic, the program switched over to a drive-through format and began attracting a much larger number of patrons not normally part of the senior crowd. A major component of the senior lunches has always been the social component which fell by the roadside as the food was handed directly to clients driving through the pickup lane.

The board is also considering upgrading the septic system to allow for increased community use of the center’s kitchen. Currently, the health department restricts the kitchen’s use to just the twice-weekly senior lunches or for emergency purposes when the building was needed for a shelter. According to former parks board chair Bennett Blaustein, the “health department would not even allow use by groups not needing permits and they explained this as being due to the new septic could fail without additional safeguards in place.”

Blaustein said over the years, the parks district had received requests by outside groups to use the kitchen. “We had multiple requests for commercial enterprises to come in and use the kitchen and they had all been turned down. All of these requests were for weekly/daily use of the kitchen and included a hot dog vendor, a Mexican restaurant, a restaurant serving dinners and weekly baking for cookies to be sold. No commercial use of the kitchen has ever been allowed since it would impact the availability of the kitchen by community groups; however, the parks board did make a very limited exception for Saturday Markets, seasonal festivals and their vendors in the rental policy.

“Most of the interest in using the kitchen was by groups within the community when they held events within the building. The current permit for kitchen use is only for the seniors so any group using the kitchen for other purposes would need to get a temporary use permit from the health department. There are some activities that are exempt from needing permits like potlucks, birthdays, weddings and celebrations of life (as well as private and closed events) where the food being served was not sold to the public,” Blaustein said.

Local contractor Ken Calder, who installed the current septic system at the community center two and half years ago, was invited to discuss the steps needed for a septic system. Although the current system is working fine, the septic was designed for residential use, and to allow increased community use of the kitchen, there would have to be a design made for a reserve drain field and possibly a new aerobic treatment unit (ATU). “The health department’s concern is that the current ATU might not bring the strength of the wastewater down.”

The reserve drain permit would require hiring a designer and cost $1,026 through Whatcom County Health Department.


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