The Pullman City Council decided Tuesday to stop pursuing the voter-approved Lawson Gardens event center project and potentially use the allotted bond dollars for other park projects instead.

The original design for the Lawson Garden House was a 3,815-square-foot indoor space intended for weddings, meetings and special events.

Rising construction costs since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the architect, Design West Architects, to draw up other, less expensive designs for the proposed Lawson Garden House.

The city budgeted nearly $1.3 million for the project using funds from the $10.5 million bond and a $700,000 grant from the Pullman Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. However, every construction bid it received came in well over that price.

City staff and Design West Architects looked for ways to modify the design so that it could be built at a cheaper price.

The least expensive design would transform the event center into an open-air pavilion instead of an enclosed space. The restrooms would remain enclosed and heated, but the rest of the space would be open to the garden.

That pavilion option would likely cost $1.6 million, which is still more expensive than the project budget.

Councilor Eileen Macoll said that based on resident feedback and a Pullman Parks and Recreation survey, the city may benefit more residents by spending the money on other projects and maintaining current parks facilities.

“I’m just not convinced this is the right project at the right time,” she said about the Lawson Garden pavilion.

The city is allowed to use the bond dollars to fund other parks and paths projects, or spend it on debt service payments on the bond.

Two examples of projects the council expressed interest in pursuing include building public restrooms at Lawson Gardens and upgrading playground equipment at other parks.

On Tuesday and during its Aug. 31 meeting, the council expressed their discomfort with moving away from a project that was approved by the voters. Councilor Ann Parks, who spoke about that issue Tuesday, said she believes the voters will understand that complications from COVID-19 have forced the city’s hand.

“It was simply because of the pandemic that we’re in this situation primarily,” she said.

Councilor Dan Records said he is concerned about how much money the city would have to spend on the Lawson Garden House to keep it alive and said he, too, prefers the city focus its dollars on other goals.

“There are a lot of projects around all of our parks that could benefit from a cash infusion here and would see a lot of benefit to a lot of our residents that utilize all those other park facilities, too,” he said.

Records made the motion to direct city staff to bring back proposals for other parks projects besides the Lawson Garden pavilion.

In other business, the city held a public hearing on the first major update to Pullman’s comprehensive plan since 1999.

The draft proposal provides a general blueprint for commercial and residential growth over the next 40 years, both within the city limits and in the designated urban growth area outside the city.

The only person who commented was a representative from the Citizens Climate Lobby, who thanked the city for collaborating with the organization and factoring climate issues into the master plan.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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