VAA hires firm to manage its new project

Vashon Allied Arts has hired a project manager to oversee the development of a new performing arts center, a big step for the organization and a sign of its seriousness in bringing the ambitious project to fruition.

A committee of board and staff members selected the Robinson Co., a Seattle-based firm that oversaw the expansion of Vashon Community Care from a 17- to a 70-bed facility a decade ago, said Paul Martinez, who chairs VAA’s building committee.

Committee members were impressed by the way the firm handled that project — a development, Martinez said, that was ecologically complex as well as worrisome to neighboring landowners. The firm, he said, oversaw “a very thoughtful, considered process with the community and adjacent landowners who had some serious concerns. ... And they came away with a very successful result.”

Scarlett Foster-Moss, VAA’s board chair and a participant in the hiring process, said she too is pleased by the outcome. “We feel terrific about it,” she said. “We think it’s a real terrific match for us in the project.”

The selection is one of the most significant ones the organization will make, Martinez said, as the firm will handle nearly every aspect of the project’s development — from the permitting process to community relations to the project’s timeline.

“It’s a primary relationship and a primary position,” Martinez said.

Added Foster-Moss: “Hiring the project manager is a huge step for us.”

Robinson was chosen from a group of 23 that responded to VAA’s request for proposals, including two from Vashon. The Vashon Island School District, in its recent request for a project manager to oversee the possible rebuild of the high school, got five responses, Martinez said. VAA’s response, he added, “gives you a sense of how desirable a project this is.”

VAA first announced its plans to build a state-of-the-art performance center on the southeast corner of Center — where Vashon Highway and Cemetery Road intersect — about two years ago, when it purchased the McFeeds property. Since then, it has moved forward slowly, garnering grant money, purchasing another piece of property and hiring an architectural firm to undertake the design concept and other preliminary work.

It has also expanded its board and strengthened its internal infrastructure in advance of taking on what will likely be a $11 million project.

The project, however, is still far from breaking ground. The arts organization is in the midst of an ambitious fundraising campaign, which will help to determine the scope of the project or whether it can proceed at all. VAA, meanwhile, has had a pre-application meeting with King County’s Department of Development and Environmental Services, but it has yet to apply for any of the county permits it will need to move forward, Martinez added.

The Robinson Co. will work with VAA every step of the way, pausing only if more fundraising is in order or if other issues slow the project, Martinez said.

“It would not be out of character to have the project stop and start and stop and start, based on availability of funds,” he added. “It’s advantageous to bring in a project manager early; they can weigh in and organize the ground that needs to be set up for future parts of the project.”

At the same time, VAA has begun reaching out to select audiences, seeking their input before it moves forward. So far, the organization has had three meetings with Islanders interested in the project, including a two-hour session last Friday where two people from LNM Architects, VAA’s architectural firm for the project, were on hand to answer questions.

Margaret Heffelfinger, co-owner of the Silverwood Gallery, attended last week’s meeting, a gathering that included neighboring property owners, civic activists and others interested in the arts.

“They were very open,” Heffelfinger said. While they discussed the fact that the organization doesn’t yet have the funding in hand for the project, she added, “They’re moving forward in a very confident manner.”

Those who attended asked a range of questions, Heffelfinger added, raising concerns about the wetlands on property VAA bought last year and whether LMN can design a project that will fit Vashon’s style.

One person at the meeting said she’d gone to LMN’s website and saw that everything she found there was glass and steel “and that doesn’t seem like us,” Heffelfinger said, quoting the woman. The architects from LMN said they understood the Island’s sensibilities and would design a project that could fit on one of Vashon’s most historic corner.

“I thought they were seriously open,” Heffelfinger added.

But Roy McMakin, a sculptor and architect who owns the Fuller Store, a historic property across the street from the site where VAA wants to build, said he’d not been invited to any of these three meetings. Over the last year or so, McMakin said, he has raised concerns about how the project is proceeding — and specifically, about VAA’s decision to hire LMN without a request for proposals. As a result, he said, “I’ve been shut out of the process. ... They’ve chosen to exclude me because I’ve not been 100 percent behind VAA.”

Foster-Moss, however, said that wasn’t true. “No one has been shut out of the process. There isn’t a formal process, by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.

VAA staff have talked to McMakin several times, she added, “and we appreciate his opinions and know he has some great and interesting ideas.”

Foster-Moss, meanwhile, said the three meetings enabled VAA and its architects to test some assumptions and get feedback from Islanders. What the organization has learned so far, she said, is that communication is key.

“When people understand the full story, the full vision, if you will, for the project, they get it,” she said. “Having the opportunity to talk to people in small groups and in depth has pointed out to us that we need to be as fully communicative as possible.”

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