PEAK project to break ground

After an arduous six-year process, the much discussed Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club PEAK project will finally break ground next week. The official ceremony takes place on June 29, six years after the youth recreation facility and teen center was conceived.

“It’s a time to acknowledge the tremendous efforts that people have put in over the years,” Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club director Blair Rasmussen said. “It’s a really big next step for us. A lot of things have transpired, and this is the start of what should be a really fun year.”

Once construction is complete — hopefully by summer 2010 -— the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club will move into the new facility, opening it up to Island youth and Mercer Island High School students alike.

Despite excitement over PEAK’s ground-breaking, the $15 million project has had a rocky history. At times, it looked like the idea — first proposed in 2003 — had a slim chance of becoming reality.

Neighborhood dissent against building the 41,000-square-foot project on the North Mercer campus, located at 4120 86th Ave. S.E., was vociferous. Neighbors argued that the project was “way out of scale” for the residential North Mercer neighborhood. They argued that the facility would exacerbate existing traffic and parking problems, as well as raise the noise level in the area. Some argued for preserving the green space that PEAK will occupy, while others said the facility would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Yet many, in particular Island parents and community organizations, fought back with support and praise for the community youth center. And in the end, PEAK was given the go-ahead.

The city of Mercer Island and Mercer Island School District approved a final design for the project in December 2008, after several months of review with the architecture company, Weinstein A/U.

The three-story sports and teen activity center will go up on 86th Avenue S.E., between the Crest Learning Center and CHILD private school. PEAK will include a field house with three high school-sized courts, a multipurpose room, tech and learning center, game room, childcare rooms and office space. The building will be flanked by two parking lots to the north and south. A “drop-off friendly” entryway, enclosed playground and safe bike paths are also part of the design.

The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club to construct PEAK in March 2008. They also denied two appeals from project opponents.

As a result of the conditional use permit, the club, district and city were required to rewrite some of the original development plans for PEAK. Conditions approved in the permit require a shared-parking agreement and a unified scheduling system to prevent multiple events from taking place on the campus around the same times.

Finances were another hurdle.

In total, PEAK costs $15 million. The majority of this funding comes in the form of private donations, according to Rasmussen.

Money in the bank for PEAK includes $4.5 million from the sale of the current Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club property to Island resident Michael O’Brien, a $2.2 million gift to the club several years ago and $1 million from the MISD, and $1 million from the city for a total of approximately $8.7 million toward the project.

The remaining money has been promised in pledges or gifts; proof that many Island residents see PEAK as a valuable asset to the community. Individuals have pledged anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project.

The city has also stepped up to support the initiative. The city’s $1 million contribution, however, is contingent on the Boys & Girls Club securing at least 90 percent of all donations, pledges and other methods of financing to begin building the project. This must take place by Sept. 1, 2009. Rasmussen is confident that all financial deadlines will be made.

Meanwhile, the district has met the legal requirements to begin construction on the monumental project.

“The bank will approve financing for the five-year pledges this week and then we break ground next week,” Rasmussen said. Public figures and individuals integral to the PEAK process will gather on Monday morning to celebrate the end of a long, yet victorious, development project. The ceremony also marks the beginning of another phase; watching the $15 million project come to life.

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