BI commission rips city over old police building

History often repeats itself, but not if it’s a building. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There is no turning back.

That was the point Bainbridge Historic Preservation Commission members emphasized in their discussion Jan. 4 about demolishing the old police station near the ferry terminal at 625 Winslow Way.

Commissioners were upset with city staff and the council for wanting to destroy rather than preserve the historic structure. They also were upset that neither they nor the public were involved in the process.

Commission chair Susan Hughes said the purpose of city code on the topic is to make sure the city has evaluated alternatives to saving a structure. “Don’t tell us there is no other option” when you haven’t looked at other options, Hughes said. “This report is really useless.”

She added that the city is just going through the motions to adhere to code. Hughes called the process “faulty and dubious.” She continued saying: “The city has already made a decision and is just jumping through the hoops right now.” It just wants to “bulldoze its way through to the final result.” Hughes called it “arrogant and with complete disregard to the public.”

The City Council has voted 7-0 to demolish the building. Going to the commission is a formality. So while it can’t stop the demolition, it does plan to send along its comments to planning director Patty Charnas.

Hughes said she hopes by coming out against this that maybe councilmembers would be willing to be educated about the importance of historic preservation. She said the city is not following the intent of the code, which includes public involvement.

She said instead of the city spending $600,000 to demolish the building it could have sold it, actually made money, and the buyer would have to retrofit it to make it earthquake-proof. That was one of the reasons the city made the decision to tear down the building. Retrofitting, making the building Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, and other improvements would be expensive.

City Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki, the liaison to the commission, asked why, if members felt so strongly about saving the police station, they didn’t work to officially make it a historic structure. He said he told the commission several times about what was going to happen. The city wants to build affordable housing at that location.

Commissioner Eric Kortum said in December of 2022 they were going to send a letter to the council asking it to do just that. But he and Hughes both said Moriwaki advised them not to. “You say we should have known all this stuff. We never knew it would come down to this,” Kortum said.

He then went off on the council. “The council knows nothing about historic preservation. It’s important to people who live here.” He added that the older generation has a “certain degree of pride in our island.” He called the old police station “a landmark people see when they get off the ferry that will be gone forever.”

Kortum mentioned that before it was a police station it was a fire station. He said in Tacoma there are 11 fire stations on the national historic register, and, “Some are not as nice as this” one on BI. He asked, “Why ruin one of the few buildings the city owns? I don’t see the sense in doing that.” Kortum took one last shot at the council for voting 7-0 for demolition, calling that “extremely troublesome.”

As for what could have been done with the building, Kortum mentioned a museum. It also could have been moved. The building could have been incorporated into another building, such as adding another story or keeping the facade and constructing around it.

In introducing the discussion, city manager Blair King said, “We’re doing our best to comply with code.” He said the commission would not be taking a vote but could make comments. He said even though it was eligible the police station had not been designated as a historic structure. The commission would be reviewing the demolition permit application.

Early in the meeting, commissioner Zach Allen said it obviously would cost a lot of money to make the building useable. But he said it hadn’t been evaluated for historic integrity since 2013, so it sits “in this limbo land.”

He said the commission has a different view than the city in that it should be protected. He said the city’s report shows how difficult it would be to use the building in the future. But it doesn’t explain its historical significance.

“I think it still is” historically significant, he said, “but we cannot reject the permit. I think this code needs to be better.”

Hughes concluded that the process was not handled well by the city. “Nobody came to us” to see what we thought about saving the building, she said. “Somebody decided to shove demolition down our throats about a year ago, and we’re left with this form today to really be able to comment.”

There will be “nothing left. It’s a resource that can never be rebuilt. We could have done a lot of cool things with that.”