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Vashon's Belle Baldwin House: Popular and pricey

The Belle Baldwin House, one of three historic vacation rentals owned and managed by the Vashon Park District, has been wildly successful since it opened its doors to renters in June. The 1912 three-bedroom home — built for one of the Pacific Northwest’s first female physicians — sits just a few yards away from the beach at Fern Cove, perhaps the Island’s ecologically richest estuary.

But the house came with a hefty price-tag — $179,000 for its renovation and remodel.

As with many construction projects, the Baldwin House remodel went over budget. The park district had planned to spend $140,000 on the project, which it funded with a 10-year bond taken out in March.

To pay for the $39,000 overrun, the district has reallocated other bond funds to the Baldwin House project as necessary. Revenue from renting the home to vacationers will in turn pay back all borrowed money within 10 years, district officials say.

Labor was not the spendy portion of the project: All the labor by subcontractors at the Baldwin House was completed at or below initial estimates, Tim Lafferty, park district maintenance supervisor, said in an e-mail. Much of the specialized work at the house was bid out to private contractors, including electricians and painters.

Instead, building materials and home furnishings cost more than anticipated.

“The cost of materials has skyrocketed over the past year due to the fuel crisis,” Lafferty said, driving up building material costs 15 to 30 percent.

The district spent $56,000 on “furnishings” for the house. However, furnishings is a broad term for this project, including everything from furniture and appliances to electrical fixtures and lighting.

Some of the house’s basic components contributed to the size of the “furnishings” line item; the purchase and installation of cabinets and countertops, for instance, came in at $15,000. But some of the actual pieces of furniture also carried a big price tag.

“All that miscellaneous stuff adds up quicker than you’d like it to,” said David Hackett, park district board chair. “You have to get fairly hearty stuff that can stand up to the use and abuse of a rental, and then we wanted to get things that were historically accurate.”

For instance, while striving to match the Baldwin House’s wood-paneled living room, which has been designated historic by the King County Landmarks Commission, staff spent $3,600 on furniture at Antique Market, including a sideboard, set of chairs and three nesting tables, said Wendy Braicks, executive director of the park district.

She and other staff members spent three days shopping for the home’s furnishings, hitting department stores, home improvement stores, thrift stores and garage sales.

In addition to historical accuracy, staff opted to “go green” when purchasing appliances, linens and beds.

But the energy-efficient appliances, which park staff picked out at Sears, were not the big-ticket items. The refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and microwave cost a grand total of $3,200, Braicks said.

The sheets and towels — three or four sets for two queen beds and two twin beds — cost $3,500, while sets of quilts and shams were $1,300 and pillows cost $1,100. All of the linens are 100 percent cotton, all natural and made without dyes, Braicks said.

The beds at Fern Cove, which everyone has “just been in love with,” she said, were chosen not only for the quality of their materials, but for their “green” factor as well. Flobeds, as they are called, are made with wool from Mount Shasta, Calif., provide an inhospitable environment to dust mites, fungi and bacteria and come with a lifetime guarantee.

The park district spent $9,700 for the four beds.

Braicks said the decision to splurge on beds and scrimp in other areas was partly dictated by experience at the Point Robinson lighthouse keeper’s quarters, the district’s other two vacation rentals.

“The beds have been a little bit of a problem down at Point Robinson,” she added. “Point Robinson has helped us a lot to learn where to put our money.”

In March, when the district took out a bond to pay for the Baldwin House renovation, the costs were combined with those for another project — building a new home for the caretaker at Point Robinson. The district opted for a $300,000 bond, allocating $140,000 to the Baldwin House and $160,000 to Point Robinson project.

However, when the Baldwin project came in over budget, commissioners decided to move funds designated for the Point Robinson project to the Baldwin project — about $39,000 as of July 15, and any other final expenses yet to be added up.

The Point Robinson project, however, is far from fruition.

The park’s caretaker still lives in half of one of the keeper’s quarters. But park officials want to build him a new home in the upper parking lot so that the district can generate more income by renting out the historic house in its entirety.

The district is close to updating the water system at the caretaker’s new site, after which the district will need to get a septic design approved and a building permit — all before breaking ground. This work could take more than a year, Braicks said.

Because the Point Robinson caretaker project is stalled, commissioners felt comfortable putting some of those bond dollars towards the Baldwin project.

Even so, Hackett acknowledged some concerns over the Baldwin project’s budget.

“I’m never happy when something goes over budget, but I think we got satisfactory explanations from staff about what caused it to happen,” Hackett said. “I know for sure it’ll be recouped pretty quickly.”

He added, “I consider it’s public money, but ultimately those remodels will be paid back. It’s ultimately an entrepreneurial project by the district.”

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