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Lea Hill land swap to benefit Auburn and Green River Community College
Green River Community College uses the 8.97-acre Lea Hill Park to the north more than the residents of Lea Hill do, most often as a practice field for intercollegiate sports.
But the tennis court is cracked, lacks nets and is unusable. The baseball diamond is in such poor condition for college ball that the Gators play their games at nearby Auburn Mountainview High School.
City officials said the park at South 320th Street and 124th Avenue no longer serves the needs of the growing Lea Hill community.
“It doesn’t serve the diverse recreation needs of a very diverse community that includes kids, college students and seniors,” said Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation.
At the same time, GRCC needs land on which to replace the 45-year-old Trades and Industry building, part of the college’s master plan for the long-term growth and capital needs of the campus.
Now the City and GRCC have found a solution to both problems – a land swap. Per an agreement now being hammered out, the City will give the college Lea Hill Park and the school will build the new Trades and Industry building there.
In exchange, the City will get a 7.15-acre site comprised of three parcels collectively known as the Martin property on 124th Avenue between Lea Hill Park and 316th Street, north of the current park. On this site, GRCC will build a new community park.
“It’s a win-win for the community,” said George Frasier, GRCC vice president for resource development. “It will get a new Trades and Industry building that is up to date and helps people get into living-wage jobs for the next 40 to 50 years, which is the design life of the building … The college also doesn’t want to see the park go away, and the community doesn’t either.”
Frasier said the current location of the building is too small for the future facility needs, and with it gone, the college can reconfigure the east entrance to the campus. And with the building removed from its current site, the college will have the room to relocate the Lindbloom Center to 320th.
Frasier added that it is far too early to say what features the new park will offer.
“We don’t know what’s going to be up here at this point because there is going to be a public process of which the college will be a part, because we’re members of the community as well,” said Frasier. “But we’ll be asking people in the surrounding community, at Rainier Ridge and Lea Hill Homes, what’s going to work best up here. My wildest guess is maybe some athletic fields and some open space that will better serve the community than the current amenities.”
The new park will be under joint GRCC and Auburn ownership.
The GRCC Foundation owns the three parcels of land. A home childcare facility and a house now occupy part of the site. The Foundation, which acquired the land more than a year ago, is in the process of donating its interest to GRCC. The college will retain about 1.77 acres of the Martin property, site of a daycare facility, which it will keep.
The City of Auburn acquired Lea Hill Park from King County in 2002 when the county was divesting itself of park land. The deed directs that the park property be used for park and recreation purposes forever, unless the City gets equal lands or facilities in exchange. The replacement lands or facilities must also be used for park or recreation purposes.
According to a memorandum of understanding between the City and GRCC, the City will transfer ownership of the park to the college in exchange for both the Martin property and other improvements.
Faber said an independent appraisal will determine the respective values of the parcels.
According to the MOU, the City and College will each hold an equal, undivided interest in the new park.
Frasier said the improvements GRCC makes will be consistent with the city-developed-and approved Lea Hill Park Master Plan and cannot exceed $1.5 million. The City will serve as the lead for the Lea Hill Park master plan and work with GRCC and the surrounding community on a conceptual park design.
“The community, which includes the college, is what drives what the future master plan will have,” Faber said.
“A lot of things have to happen before we hopefully start construction on the Trades building in July 2011,” Frasier said. “We’d like to do the park before then and have it complete before construction starts. Another thing is that the owner, still lives on the property and has a lease until 2011, and the college intends to respect that.”
The Foundation owns the 1.6 acres around the Martin home and will gift it the college at the next board meeting. The collage already owns the pasture land and childcare center.
Frasier said various agencies must sign off, including King County and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.