United Learning Center Takes a Step Forward After City Approves Architect for Gym

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In a step toward the construction of a gymnasium for the future United Learning Center, all seven Centralia city councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a professional services agreement between the city and KMB Architects, Inc. to the tune of $190,083.

According to the city council’s agenda report, the city has stated that it will construct the gym for the United Learning Center (ULC) project, a community partnership between United Way of Lewis County, the Boys and Girls Club of Lewis County, Bezos Academy, the Economic Alliance of Lewis County (formerly the Lewis Economic Development Council) and other organizations.

In August 2020, the city approved $1.9 million for the project, which will be built kitty-corner to city hall at the corner of Maple and North Pearl streets. Funds for the professional services agreement will be allocated from that original budget.

The motion passed after a brief presentation from Community Development Director Emil Pierson and a few followup questions from councilors, including from Councilor Rebecca Staebler on the energy efficiency of the gym.

“Do you give them any parameters or guidelines of what we want to see that building look like?” Staebler asked. “Councilor Cameron has brought up energy efficiency. Are we asking them to incorporate anything like that? I noticed that there was some guidelines that it would be air-conditioned and insulated, looking at solar panels, is it at this time that that comes in?”

Pierson said the goal at this time is to see what KMB Architects would be able to do under the approved budget.

“I'll be honest, (since) two years ago when we put the numbers together, the building economy, the building market has completely changed. And so this is going to be really working closely with that architecture to see what we can do to get the biggest bang for our buck in this case. So how it's designed, how it looks? I have no idea,” Pierson said.

Staebler also asked whether the gymnasium would drive the design for the adjacent facilities in the ULC, and whether the whole thing would be cohesive if separate design plans were made for each aspect. To that, Pierson noted KMB Architects was working on those aspects as well, and hiring this firm for the city’s piece would grant the opportunity to “hem them both together.”

Councilor Kelly Smith Johnston followed up with a question about the plan for community rooms in the proposed building.

“Let me make sure I understand,” Smith Johnston said. “The architect is tasked with designing the building overall and the gym piece. But then whoever will be the lessee for those rooms will design the interior of those, is that correct?”

To which Pierson said: “You got it. Yes.”

The agreement signifies forward motion for the ULC after its groundbreaking ceremony in June. The project, also called the Early Learning Center, will be another step in United Way of Lewis County’s broader strategic goal of lifting 30% of Lewis County families out of poverty by 2030, known as the 30 By 2030 Initiative.

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Previous Chronicle reporting was used in this story.

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