Through two new projects funded by the Washington State Legislature, the City of Yelm is simultaneously preserving the past while looking to the future. The iconic 125-foot water tower that has loomed over the town since the 1940s is being converted into an art piece, while a new building, to be constructed almost directly under the tower will house a satellite branch of South Puget Sound Community College and a business incubator space.
“We are grateful for our legislators who worked with us to find the most appropriate funding source in the final budget adopted by the Legislature,” City Administrator Michael Grayum said. “Both of these community projects are important for preserving Yelm’s past and building our future.”
Representative J.T. Wilcox was one of those legislators who secured funds for both projects. Part of his motivation was to support the city in maintaining its own identity amid booming growth. “Small towns can lose their identities,” says Wilcox. “I went to high school and church in Yelm and these projects were very important to me. I’m committed to supporting growth whenever it’s possible and when it makes sense, but you should always maintain a sense of the qualities that make this a unique town.”
Bringing the Yelm Water Tower Back to Life
The push for preserving the water tower came through the local nonprofit, Save the Yelm Water Tower. Through their efforts, the decommissioned tower was added to the Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation’s list of historic structures in 2017. After dedicating $150,000 to the project in 2017-2019 capital budget, the state legislature allocated another $300,000 for it in the 2019-2021 budget. The tower will serve as a canvas of sorts, outfitted with LED lighting, and an impressive arrangement of different features and colors to coincide with special occasions such as holidays or Seahawks games.
“This is a very unique feature in town,” says Wilcox. “It sounded like the group had carefully thought through what it was going to look like. I was excited about the things they could do to make it fresh and new.”
City Council Member EJ Curry is also looking forward to seeing the end product. “I’m thrilled that Save the Yelm Water Tower was able to apply for and receive nearly half-a-million dollars to fund the water tower restoration project,” she says. “It’s going to be beautiful when it’s done, with those colorful lights and the landscaping we are planning to have. That historic tower will be a community asset forever.”
Creating a New Space for Education and Economic Development
The adjacent half-acre of commercial property acquired in the purchase of the new City Hall building will be developed into a space to provide secondary education and economic development with support from $200,000 allocated by the state legislature in the 2019-2021 Capital Budget. The funding covers building design, architectural renderings, community engagement and cost estimate for a mixed-use, multi-story structure. The Yelm City Council has been exploring the idea of a space that would provide education, training and technology to support underserved populations and help small businesses get off the ground.
“Ever since we purchased the land, we have been wanting to utilize it in a way that benefits our community,” says Yelm Council Member Cody Colt. “Creating an innovative education service center is a way for us to invest in our citizens in multiple ways: providing a dedicated space for secondary education, technology training, and breaking down barriers local businesses face to continue strengthening our local economy.”
Bringing a satellite SPSCC campus to Yelm will fill a much-needed void as well, according to Wilcox. “The second legislative district is one of the only districts in the state that doesn’t have a community college in it or even a branch campus,” he notes, “so having that better access was pretty critical for kids in Yelm.”
Local students have already had considerable success through the Yelm High School Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. As home to one of the biggest FFA chapters in the country, Yelm High School is consistently in the top 10 finishers at the annual national championship and has finished first in the country more than once. “We want to build on that success and have kids be able to stay here in town to take their next step,” says Wilcox.
The business incubator aims to spark economic vitality by supporting entrepreneurs in the start-up phase of their business. “A lot of towns in the second district have grown, but their economies haven’t,” says Wilcox. “We’ve got a bunch of people that move here because they can afford the housing and then they have to put their families through two to four hours of commuting every single day to go to work. My goal has always beento provide more opportunity right here, so you can have that affordable lifestyle and be able to work in town”
For more information visit the City of Yelm website.