City of Olympia Partners with JBLM to Demolish Isthmus Building 505

isthmus building demolition
A recent photo of Building 505 shows its unusable condition. Photo credit: City of Olympia


By Cara Bertozzi

chehalis sheet metalLiving in Olympia, there is evidence everywhere of the impact that the waters of the South Puget Sound have on shaping the land and how we use it. The isthmus of downtown Olympia serves as a poignant example of this dynamic interplay. A connector between the east and west sides of Olympia, the isthmus is bound on the north by the southern reaches of Budd Bay inlet and on the south by Capitol Lake, over which the imposing Capitol campus is situated with unfettered views of the Sound.

isthmus building demolition
An aerial photo from 1971 shows Building 505 across from the Bayview Thriftway and the dock. Photo credit: Washington State Archives

Historical photographs demonstrate how many changes this little strip of land has undergone, as the city has widened the isthmus, allowed building development, and created parks and trails for all to enjoy. The land has been used as a wharf, lumber yard and mill, boat building site, and for oyster packing and restaurants.

In the 1950s, Thurston County purchased and developed a parcel of the isthmus. Building 529, a two-story 14,000 square foot building, was built first and was used by the Health Department for decades. The single-story Thurston County Housing Building, Building 505, was built in 1968 and was later expanded to approximately 7,000 square feet. The County relocated their operations in the 1980s, and both buildings have stood essentially vacant since then.

A new development proposal came before the City Council in 2013.  After much debate, the City decided the best course of action was to purchase the two vacant sites, with a vision to potentially expand Olympia’s public park space. The first step in this long-term urban renewal project is to remove the existing condemned structures.

Residents will be happy to know that a mutually beneficial demolition agreement has been reached for Building 505 between the City of Olympia and components of the 555th Engineering brigade at JBLM. In an all-hands-on-deck feat of collaboration, Brett Bures, the City of Olympia’s Department of Public Works demo project manager, members of the Olympia City Council, and representatives from JBLM have forged a historical partnership that provides a unique training opportunity for local soldiers while saving the city the expense of hiring a private contractor.

isthmus building demolition
A recent photo of Building 505 shows its unusable condition. Photo credit: City of Olympia

The Army has been in an expeditionary phase for more than a decade. Most of their structures are built in austere international locations as temporary additions to the landscape. When it is time to close down a camp in a combat environment, the disassembly of crude buildings in rural environments is performed quickly. However, as our forces transition to a peacetime Army, it is critical to reengage other skill sets and reconnect with communities near bases.

The deconstruction of a building that has stood for 46 years in an urban environment presents a compelling challenge for the Army.  It also serves as a great way to beautify a heavily used area. In addition, source separation of the original materials will be conducted, with a goal to recycle as much as possible.  The target is 60%.

The JBLM construction engineers are excited for the opportunity to work in the community and engage the civilian sector. Not only is it a chance to contribute to a positive local development project, but it is also a chance to validate their processes by working with outside units and gaining exposure to civilian regulations. All involved parties believe this project will strengthen the relationship between the military base and the City of Olympia, with everyone learning and improving their methods in the course of doing business.

isthmus building demolition
Civilian and military stakeholders have collaborated to plan the demolition of Building 505 on the isthmus. Photo credit: City of Olympia

Notably, the Engineering Brigade tasked with this project has quite a few factors to consider in their coordination of multiple variables. The critical path method was used to establish a plan and predict the completion of the project, and a GANTT chart was created that outlines the final timeline. Resources have to be pulled in. Convoys must be organized to safely transport soldiers and equipment, and site safety is also an important factor to plan for. These tasks are great opportunities to validate the unit’s training programs.

Contracted asbestos crews have already completed their cleanup of the site, and the City of Olympia is providing much of the support measures needed for this project., including renting a scissor lift and heavy equipment like an excavator, wheelbarrows, security fencing and lighting, and portable toilets. JBLM is providing the labor for the deconstruction, an assortment of handheld tools such as crowbars and saws, and 10 vehicles, including seven 10-ton dump trucks that will be used to haul the exterior concrete to a concrete recycling facility in Tumwater.

The demolition will take place in two phases. From December 1 – 19, the interior of Building 505 will be deconstructed by hand. The stair banisters will be saved to donate to Habitat for Humanity, and the untreated wood, wiring, air conditioning units, piping and conduits will also be sorted for recycling. In the second stage, the support structures and concrete exterior will be dismantled using heavy equipment. It is expected that this phase will be conducted for about one month, beginning on January 5.

As Building 505 comes down, residents can continue to stroll the waterfront trails at Heritage Park and savor our magnificent location on the water.


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