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City turns to Facebook about whether or not to acquire Ferndale High School’s “Old Main” (Poll)

Ferndale High School 'Old Main' building entrance

FERNDALE, Wash. — The City of Ferndale has spent the last few months collecting information regarding the merits of acquiring the “Old Main” building and a portion of a nearby parking lot on the Ferndale High School campus and renovating it to house Ferndale City Hall, Municipal Court and City Council chambers. The building is currently destined to be demolished after a new high school has been built in the next few years.

Yesterday, city staff posted the question, “Should the city move forward with this location or pass and find another location?” to their Facebook page.

City staff have been putting forth recommendations for dealing with shortcomings with City Hall and the joint council chambers and municipal courtroom in the City Hall Annex building for about 3 years. City Hall is reported to be unable to handle expected future growth in the number of city staff that would need to be housed there. The council chambers and the municipal courtroom are reported to have security issues. Mayor Mutchler (currently a candidate for re-election as mayor) said newly hired Municipal Court Judge Mark Kaiman told him the courtroom was likely one of the worst in the state.

According to the staff report provided to Council Committees at their meetings on Wednesday, August 1st, sources of funding to purchase and renovate Old Main have yet to be identified.

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Staff would strongly encourage the City Council to utilize a recurring source of revenue, such as the City’s banked capacity, as a basis for funding. This would allow the City to move forward with construction while at the same time seeking additional funding options that could reduce the impact on the taxpayer.

The city is asking the Ferndale City Council to make a decision by the end of August about whether or not to go forward with the plan since the Ferndale School District needs to know whether or not to plan around the city occupying the building as they begin planning for the construction of the new high school.

A building walk-through was held July 24th for councilmembers. None of the councilmembers were on hand when City Administrator Jori Burnett, Mayor Jon Mutchler and Communications Officer Riley Sweeney did the walk-through with FHS Principal Jeremy Vincent.

Some councilmembers expressed concern at Wednesday’s meetings that more time was needed to make a decision about what is estimated to be the biggest building purchase ever by the city.

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Alternative proposals would be to build a new facility at a yet-to-be-determined location or expand the current City Hall facility at 4th Avenue and Main Street.

City staff hired RMC Architects to assess the building and come up with a cost to renovate it for the city’s purposes. According to the staff report, “RMC Architects forecasts a total cost of approximately $11.2 million in 2019 funds to complete all required work.” Noting, “This does not include the costs to acquire the building.”

Some councilmembers expressed concern over claims made by supporters of the recently approved Ferndale School District Bond proposition that the building was not worth remodeling for the school district’s purposes. Burnett responded at Wednesday’s Finance & Administration Committee meeting, “The building can be saved. But the question is, at what cost? Is the cost to restore the building more than what council wants [to spend]?”

The topic will be on the agenda for Monday night’s regular City Council meeting. Council will be asked to decide whether the city should acquire and renovate the Old Main building and, if yes, to identify a maximum price for acquiring the building.

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In the staff report, Burnett explained,

The Council is asked to provide direction on the future use of Old Main. No matter the direction Council provides in August, this is not the final decision point. It is simply one fork in the road. It is likely that the Council that is seated on January 1st will be the primary decision-makers on many of these next steps. But that does not mean that this Council cannot reduce the number of decision points. This Council is in an extremely unique – perhaps unprecedented – position to set a course for the next Council to build on.

Poll (final results)

Should the city make plans to acquire and renovate the Old Main building to serve as City Hall, City Council Chambers and Ferndale Municipal Court?
Response Votes %
Absolutely not 163 52.8
Probably not 40 12.9
Unsure 16 5.2
Probably should 44 14.2
Absolutely should 46 14.9
309 total participants

Note: The poll was closed after several dozen votes for the same response were submitted from the same IP address. Those votes were removed from the results.


  1. Norma Christensen August 2, 2019

    Waste of money, concentrate first on getting more water for Ferndale. If this building wasn’t good enough for our kids why move into it.

  2. Lloyd Zimmerman August 2, 2019

    The idea could work well if the new school was built at the top of the hill on 40 acres of farmland already purchased from the Ericson family dairy

  3. G Thomas August 2, 2019

    You’re acting like a typical government agency, spend spend spend. Where does this money come from? As the man says why don’t you continue what you started with the water well that is so desperately needed instead of just continuing to raise our utility rates.

  4. Amy Millman August 2, 2019

    Why were no councilmembers at the walk thru? I find this part of the problem. They are not involved can they make a decision based on no personal knowledge…from other things I’ve read they make a lot of decisions without doing proper follow thru and research.

    • Carol Bersch August 3, 2019

      I knew nothing about the scheduled walk thru. I’m not sure why I missed the communication. Since none of the other council members did not show up, I can only think that the tour was not communicated with my fellow council members. Carol Bersch, Position 7

  5. Darlene Funkhouser Kliewer August 2, 2019

    It makes me sick to see my high school looking like this. How did such neglect happen. If nothing else make a museum out of it but don’t leave this eyesore

  6. Steve Martinson August 2, 2019

    How binding would this councils decision be? If January’s council is against it and current council says go for it how is the school district able to plan? Is staff for or against it? My experience with the city is while the council supposedly represents the citizens and business’s it seems the mayor is the only one with any authority over the staff. I was on the planning commision for a few years [went through 3 or 4 planning directors] a couple of us voted against a proposed change and you’d of thought we ‘d committed a crime. I love old historic buildings, can hardly pass by a museum, and love old fashioned downtowns, guess that makes me a dinosaur. $11,000,000.00 is a big number [in any years dollars] add the unknown cost of the land and building and then let us vote or poll on it. Maybe the district could just donate it since it was all bought by us taxpayers/property owners originally anyway.

  7. Bill Pate August 2, 2019

    This is yet another example of why we need a new mayor and new members on the city council. This “idea” has been killed multiple times but it keeps coming back because someone wants to do it.

  8. Karen A August 2, 2019

    So it was too expensive to renovate for students and a security nightmare, but OK for the city? Were the voters falsely led to approving new high school?

  9. Ann Waller August 2, 2019

    Please do not ask me to approve or disapprove city spending when I have not been advised of where the money is coming from. 11.2+ million seems excessive to renovate. What is the cost of other options? Will my taxes be raised even more for a “wanna”? At this point, I wish current Mayor and Council would not make such decisions. Let’s wait for newly elected officials just a few months away for any new projects. I really do not want to see the current Mayor and Council steer the future Council on which to build on. Let the new Council be free in their own creativity and decision making. I agree with the above – we need to concentrate on other current issues that are much more demanding of our dollars. Guess I’ll need to attend the meeting on Monday.

  10. Ben Vietz August 4, 2019

    another smoke and mirrors agenda by short sighted public officials . First we get an end around second vote on the school Bond now This,,,, Whats next???? This property needs to
    be kept as school property for future use.

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