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Plans get boost to consolidate county services at former hospital site

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Pierce County’s efforts to consolidate county services in a new facility at the site of the former Puget Sound Hospital landed a key partner recently, when the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health voted to join the project, but financial details are still under negotiations. At issue is $400,000 in relocation costs.

More details on the plans are expected this fall.

The health department currently operates from a 38-year-old facility next to the former hospital site on East Tacoma’s strip of Pacific Avenue. Redevelopment of the site will cost about $87 million and offer 235,000 square feet of space, with about 55,000 of that used for the health department operations if plans solidify. Pierce County owns the building that houses the health department and faces about $15 million in repairs to the current building, making a move attractive to both agencies.

The health department’s decision to explore a move is the latest news concerning Pierce County’s plans to demolish the abandoned Puget Sound Hospital along Pacific Avenue to then build an office complex to consolidate many of its operations that are now in leased spaces around the city.

The former hospital at 3580 Pacific Ave. was closed in 2010 and was listed for a possible surplus sale with no takers. Absent a new owner, it has sat vacant for four years. During that time, Pierce County officials started looking at how to control their leasing costs and boost efficiencies by co-locating governmental services.

The 66,000-square-foot hospital, which has parts that date back to 1926, was expensive to heat and maintain. Renovations would be more expensive than new construction. Current leased spaces around the county are also facing costly renovations as well. So locating county government offices at a new facility on land the county already owned started making financial sense. Moving 1,000 county employees to the Lincoln District site would also provide an economic boost to the neighborhood and provide for future growth.

Plans are to have design work done this year with a new building springing up in 2015 with the actual move set for 2016 if the county can cobble together enough partners.

The staffing shuffle would move the Assessor-Treasurer, Auditor, Planning and Land Services, County Council, County Executive and Public Works operations into the 13-acre former hospital site. Office spaces within the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma and other county-owned facilities that would be freed up in the shuffle would be filled by other departments currently housed in leased spaces around the city, namely the County Annex, which was built originally to be a department store.

The new facility would be privately built through a lease-to-own agreement, with the roughly $100 million pricetag would translate to $4 million a year for 30 years at which time the county would own the facility outright. Detailed costs will come out during the design phase.