GSAplans to blend in at border

Published on Thu, Apr 13, 2006 by JackKintner

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GSA plans to blend in at border

By Jack Kintner

The General Services Administration (GSA) showed the “preliminary design concept” for the new Peace Arch port of entry building last Thursday at the Blaine senior center.

GSA representatives also heard from local residents frustrated at being displaced by the $40 million project and others nervous about the agency’s ability to complete the project in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The current building, a 28-year-old blue and white structure that straddles the southbound lanes of I-5 just south of Peace Arch park, will be replaced with a long, narrow building that will stretch from near the BNSF tracks east almost to second street. Southbound traffic from Canada will have 10 adjacent lanes devoted to primary inspection in the west end of the building. Secondary inspection will be done in a separate drive-in structure immediately south of the new building that will lie under the northbound lanes of the freeway and be covered with a more or less circular sod roof, making it look, in the overhead perspective of the GSA drawings, like a ball laying next to a bat.

Architect Sergei Bischak said the sod roof is intended to blend the structure with the park. Blaine city council member Bonnie Onyon wondered why it couldn’t be made to fit in more with the Peace Arch architecture, but Bischak said that their whole effort was aimed at visually blending in, rather than dominating the area as the Peace Arch was designed to do.

According to Bischak the new building is no larger in square footage than the building it replaces. Port Manager Peg Fearon said, “That’s not a problem. It’s a different design which is going to be a big help in working with a staff that’s more than doubled since I arrived but that also now works for the same agency.”

Having all primary inspection lanes together will be safer, according to the GSA’s Mark Howard, adding that since “the old customs agency and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service have merged, they no longer need to be in separate areas.”

Neighboring Blaine residents continued to express their frustration about being displaced for the project as well as nervousness about the GSA’s repeated assurances that it will be finished in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Ron Weber of the GSA said that appraisals have been nearly completed on the 15 properties the agency will offer to buy from landowners, but written offers on the parcels won’t be sent out until August.
Bob Deere of 171 B Street wanted to know why deadlines had changed. “You guys keep hanging us out to dry. The story changes every time we meet,” Deere said, adding he and his family had found another house they wanted to move to but were unsure how that would affect their moving benefits.

The GSA’s Gerri Barsotti said that, “If you’re not living there when we make an offer on the property then you won’t get any of the re-location benefits. If you rent it out then we’ll help your renter, but if you’re not living there you won’t qualify.” She explained that the written offers for each parcel also were written confirmation of the resident’s qualification for re-location assistance.

GSA’s Shawn Pelowitz said he felt confident the structure would be completed “by our target date of December 2009,” only a month before the Olympics begin. He had said earlier that evening that some design considerations had already produced a delay of four to six weeks, “but we’ve anticipated these delays in our planning, and expect to complete our work in plenty of time.”

No definite date was set for the next GSA public meeting, but Pelowitz estimated that it would probably be sometime next June.