By Gale Hemmann
Something exciting is happening in Shelton. In early 2015, this small Mason County city will welcome its first-ever transit community center. The Mason Transit Authority Transit-Community Center will house not only full transit facilities, but social services, classrooms, event space, retail, and so much more.
Built by Forma Construction, the Mason Transit Authority is repurposing the 1950’s-era Washington National Guard Shelton Armory for the new center. This massive project began in 2006, when MTA purchased the armory building as surplus. They were able to get generous federal and state grants to build the center, as well as individual contributions (in fact, “paver” stones will bear the names of local donors).
Finally, after years of hard work, the vision is getting close to reality. I was lucky to participate in a tour of the construction site recently. On a chilly but clear October day, I joined a small group and donned hard hats as we began our tour through the facility. Situated on West Franklin Street in downtown Shelton, across from Safeway, the shell of the building is now largely complete. Attractive and modern, it’s easy to imagine the center bustling with activity and life.
Our tour was led by Kathy Geist, Transit-Community Center manager. Geist is incredibly enthusiastic about the new building. For the past several years, she’s been working tirelessly with groups and individuals around the community to incorporate as many uses into the public space as possible. As we toured the center, Geist took us through future classrooms, office spaces, and best of all, a large, glass atrium connecting the transit and community sections of the building.
From the outset, Geist shared, plans for the center have included community input and centered around the goal of serving Mason County residents. The new center is going to offer a truly impressive range of public services. Meeting and multi-purpose rooms will be available to the community, from non-profit events to weddings, at an affordable rate. Many different groups and organizations are excited about the center, and much of the rental space has already been leased. Tenants are confirmed for three of the four retail spaces (word has it that locals are excited to hear that Doos Donuts will be setting up shop there).
As construction on the center nears completion and word spreads, Geist says the community is getting eager to see it open. She has also been planning with the Shelton Parks and Recreation Department, who plan to hold athletic activities in the gym, and Olympic College Shelton, who will be leasing classroom space. The college’s Culinary Program will also be using the commercial-sized kitchen, which is also available for public and private event use. And programs are planned especially for seniors and youth. Once-cherished community events such as wheelchair basketball for disabled veterans will have a chance to be resurrected at the new facility.
The space will also house a small area for the Shelton Police Department officers, near the atrium. This will both provide a resource for the community and enhance public safety with the officers’ presence.
Rather than a large, traditional parking lot, Geist said they are developing plans to meet parking needs with an eco-friendly “nature education” parking lot that will provide a pleasant alternative.
Another very unique feature of the Transit Center is that it is slated to house a childcare service. By providing affordable, licensed daycare near public transit, MTA hopes they can fill an important need for busy working parents.
Also onsite to greet us for the tour were Brad Patterson, Mason Transit Authority General Manager, and Drew Phillips, LEED AP the project lead at Forma. They were both excited to see the project nearing completion. Phillips oversees LEED compliance on the project (the new part of the structure will be LEED-Certified – an environmentally-friendly designation – and the historic Armory, while difficult to make LEED-certified, is as eco-friendly as possible). He said it has been rewarding to work on this “integrated construction project.”
“We’ve been cost-effective and are pleased the new building will serve the needs of the community in so many ways,” Phillips said. He also noted that all the players involved have worked together incredibly well in the process of planning and building the center. “There’s been so much synergy behind this project,” he notes.
One wonderful aspect of the new Transit-Community Center is that it will be financially self-sustaining. Built without cost to local taxpayers, the center will bring in rental revenue from the groups and businesses who lease space, covering the operating and maintenance costs.
In the process of renovating the Armory and adding the new construction, Forma is making the center ADA-compliant and accessible to all. This is just one more way they are ensuring that the new center serves all residents of the community.
The history of the Armory will be preserved in its new incarnation. The original, beautiful douglas fir floor of the gymnasium is being kept intact. And historical photos and information about the old Armory will be showcased. Geist sees the project as building on the community’s history, renovating the Armory into a usable, up-to-date building.
Forma has been managing construction and renovation projects in the Pacific Northwest for nearly 30 years. They are responsible for many historical renovations in the area, as well as new public and private construction projects. You might recognize their innovative work at the Hands On Children’s Museum, Joint Base Lewis McChord, and local schools and medical facilities.
When it opens, the MTA Transit-Community Center will be much more than a new building. It will be a safe, attractive downtown “hub” for commerce and visitors as well as locals. It will help revitalize Shelton’s historic downtown. The construction and operation of the center have created and will continue to create jobs. And perhaps most importantly of all, it will help enhance the quality of life for many Shelton-area residents.
You can learn more about the Forma’s Mason Transit Authority Transit-Community Center project and their other work in the community on their website.