A downtown Covington? Its in the works

City Council ponders ideas for Covington Elementary School site

The City of Covington and the Covington Police Department may have a new home soon. The city is working to revamp the site of the old Covington Elementary School to house the police department, city offices and hopefully a future downtown core-site.

Covington City Councilmember Sean Smith is excited by the prospect of having a place that gives Covington more of an identity. The city has been working on creating a town center since about 2009, he said, and he wants it to be the place where visitors instantly think of going when coming to Covington.

“When I first got on the council and I first got here I’d tell people I lived in Covington and people would say ‘where?’ And I’d say its the community between Kent and Maple Valley,” Smith said. “In the years since I’ve been here because of things like the Costco development, the hospital, our library … Covington is developing an identity and people now know where it is without having to tell them what it’s in-between. The town center is just part of that.”

The city recently purchased about 10 acres from the Kent School District’s original 16 acres for $3.9 million in cash. Part of that money was from a state grant Smith said. The cost of savings on rent and interest payments since there will be no mortgage will save the city “tens of thousands of dollars,” Smith said.

“It will allow for centralization of city services,” Smith said. “Because we are outgrowing the current city hall. Because our city is growing our demand for services is growing. So this will free up and allow us to do more things.”

Covington City Manager Regan Bolli said the city has been in its current location since 2002 and has now overfilled the space.

City staff and Covington Police Chief Andrew McCurdy went and toured the building two weeks ago to see what needed to be done before city employees could start packing up for a move. Smith said there were two portables, built in the 1990s, that will need a few upgrades to the HVAC and more, which could be ready for police officers to move into within a year.

Bolli said the city is looking at the cost for demolition and the cost to quickly update the portables for use. The city will want to save the site’s playground and the structure covering the basketball hoops at the school. Bolli said having the police move into the building sooner and later would be a win-win for the city.

“Currently the police do not have public access,” Bolli said. “So we aren’t able to give as good public service.”

Having the police move to the portables would free up space for city services at the current location while also providing a presence at the new site. Bolli said the city is dealing with broken windows and graffiti at the school so having the department there will deter vandals from creating more damage.

There are about six classrooms that could be used for offices, interview rooms, meeting rooms, private spaces for victims and suspects, and more. The second portable was the former cafeteria and could be used for police training and exercise. The department has already started moving some weight equipment to the portable.

“For the rest of the building we are considering demolition because it’s going to cost a lot more to renovate,” Smith said. “The council will have to decide all of these things … the building has asbestos issues, the building right now has rodent issues, so it would be a lot of money to bring it up to code. So we are discussing what the best use of that resource is right now, and it looks like we might have to demolish it.”

Bolli said converting a building built for K-12 schooling into public office spaces would create “astronomical costs.”

Demolition isn’t the worst thing that could happen since Smith, Bolli and other city members are envisioning a place for civic activities and community building to take place. For Smith, he hopes to see the 10 acres of new city property be developed into a place where Covington residents will feel proud to call their core.

“How do we create a place that is the center for city government but also the center for civic engagement as well?” Smith said. “Possibly a town plaza, a place for recreation, dining, entertainment and more business. With the development of Lakepoint, this will show (the city’s) commitment to historic downtown as well. We don’t want to lose our key businesses down here, the city is committed to keeping these cores vibrant for years to come.”

The city will look to hire a developer to help the council plan for the new development and a permanent city hall. The Kent School District moved Covington Elementary School around three years ago to a new building, leaving the old building sitting abandoned. The school district gave the city the first right to refusal for the property.

For a majority of American cities, downtowns naturally grew out its’ historic districts. For a young city like Covington, which grew out of a unincorporated neighborhood, it faces a unique problem trying to create a downtown that has the same attraction as historic downtown.

“We’ve thankfully have built up around a vibrant, successful business retail sector,” Smith said. “As the city developments some businesses changed, needs changed and there is a big footprint through our city … in the modern time, compared to historic places, the pace has changed much quicker. What used to take a lifetime takes just a year. A city like Covington, being so new, is learning how to deal with this as we go.”

Bolli said the city has started looking into the cost for demolition and renovation, and has submitted some initial paperwork for the project. There is not concrete timeline for when Bolli will present these costs to the city council, but he is hoping to present these numbers “sooner than later.”