Editorial: A pivotal point for the Superior Bldg.

By Jason Miller
Posted 7.22.12

During the regular Concrete Town Council meeting on June 25, a surprising and disappointing thing happened. After more than three years of what Superior Building proponents have interpreted as support for its adaptive reuse, three councilmembers started singing a different tune.

The catalyst for the discussion came from a resolution drafted by Concrete Town Planner Jeroldine Hallberg and the Historical Preservation and Landmarks Commission, and set before the council for its review and approval. The resolution would have formally accepted the feasibility report on the building’s structural stability provided to the town by Seattle-based The Johnson Partnership. It also would have kicked off a fundraising effort to pay for securing the roof with a permanent replacement.

What followed was a 180-degree shift of intentions among three council members, two of whom voiced staunch opposition to the resolution and to the idea of preserving the Superior Building, which was constructed in the 1920s as an administration building for the Superior Portland Cement Company. A third was simply very hesitant.

This is a disturbing development in the process of reviving a worthwhile piece of Concrete history, especially when you consider that one of the dissenters actually took part in both cleanout days that were held at the building in 2010.

Let’s talk about how we got to this point.

The preservation and restoration of the Superior Building was one of the most popular ideas to come out of the first Imagine Concrete visioning workshop in April 2009, second only in vote count to the community garden idea. A task force was formed to research options for the building and give recommendations to the council. The two cleanout days and the debris removal from the roof logged 400 volunteer hours and 100 equipment hours.

The council approved the creation of the Historical Preservation and Landmarks Commission, a group composed of local experts in archaeology, architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, and this council member, whose primary project at its inception was the Superior Building.

The council also approved efforts from the town to become a Certified Local Government—one of only two in Skagit County—so that the town could have access to special grants, technical assistance and training from the State Historic Preservation Office, valuable historic preservation networking opportunities, and more—all with the intent of bringing these resources to bear on the Superior Building.

Then the council directed The Johnson Partnership to proceed with the grant-funded feasibility study, which, while long on historical references, delivered the answer the council sought: The Superior Building is structurally sound enough to renovate and serve as the town’s new government headquarters. It also recommended that the building be immediately weatherproofed; i.e., a new, historically sensitive roof be installed.

Somehow, we went from actions that demonstrated support to one council member stating during the June 25 meeting, “I don’t love that building.” What a sad thing to hear from an elected official charged with carrying out the will of the people.

The Superior Building project is about more than the building itself. It’s about building community pride, preserving tradition, and inspiring people in the community. Our historic buildings represent a community investment that should not be discarded lightly; rehabilitating and then maintaining our older buildings can mean savings in time, money, and raw materials, to say nothing of saving architecture that, it often seems, few modern architects can replicate.

In the Superior Building, Town of Concrete has an opportunity to go big and win big, but it will take concerted political will. It will take guts. If the council drops the ball on this matter, its credibility will be shot. Its members will have proven to the citizenry that they, as a body, have no guts to take on the tough tasks that face the community.

No decision was made regarding the proposed resolution and the future of the Superior Building during the June 25 meeting, but the subject will be on the agenda for the next meeting, July 9. “Second chances come along all the time. It’s up to us to recognize them.” Writer Katherine Russell Rich said that. I agree with her, and believe it’s time to give the Superior Building a second chance.

If you have an opinion about the Superior Building, I encourage you to show up at the July 9 regular council meeting (7 p.m., Concrete Town Hall) and make your voice heard.

Published in Concrete Herald, July 2012

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