VAA hires Seattle construction firm for new performing arts center

Vashon Allied Arts has selected Seattle-based Sellen Construction as its general contractor for the 20,000-square-foot performing arts center it hopes to begin building next spring, the arts organization announced last week.

The organization chose Sellen from 10 firms that responded to its request for proposals and three firms that a panel of nine interviewed. Kirk Robinson, VAA’s project manager, said several of the firms were highly competitive.

“Sellen just rose to the top. It was very close,” Robinson said. 

Sellen, he added, seemed to have the right chemistry to work with VAA and has already demonstrated “a strong commitment to the arts. ... What you’re really looking for is who has the most experience as a team and who you think you’d work best with. ... Sellen is a great company.”

Sellen, founded in 1944, has handled several arts and theater projects over the years, including the Seattle Art Museum renovation expansion, the Paramount Theater renovation and the construction of the Bellevue Art Museum.

Robinson said he asked three Vashon contractors to consider submitting bids for the project, but all of them declined. “They just didn’t think it was within their strike zone. It’s too big of a project,” he said.

VAA officially unveiled its plans to the public for a new performing arts center last month after several invitation-only meetings with artists, performance groups and other potential users and donors.

The arts organization’s plans call for a 300-seat theater with a small orchestra pit, a 2,000-square-foot lobby and 1,000-square-foot art gallery — a significant structure on the corner of Vashon Highway and Cemetery Road that is already garnering support and triggering concern.

All told, construction of the Vashon Center for the Arts, as it’s been dubbed, is expected to cost $16.5 million. Some of that money is already in hand, due to large contributions from Kay White, a member of the Vashon Island Chorale, and grants VAA has received from the state and King County. VAA also expects to take out a $3 million loan to help facilitate the project and raise several million dollars through a capital campaign, the details of which have not yet been released.

Kirk said the organization decided to hire a general contractor now, rather than waiting until it has all of its funds in hand and is ready to break ground, because the firm will bring advice and other support to the table. 

“This is not an unusual situation for nonprofits,” he said. “We have ample funds to complete the designs and complete the permitting. But we won’t start the construction until we have the funding fully secured.”

The next milestone for the project will be completion of its environmental review, known in the industry as its SEPA (or State Environmental Policy Act) checklist. The SEPA process requires a 30-day period for public review and input. Robinson said he believes that process will begin next month.

“We’ve submitted most of our SEPA documents,” he said. 


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