Parking lot opens at old Penney's

OK all you car prowlers and car thieves, there’s a new parking garage downtown prepared to shoot perpetrators of break-ins and thefts.

With video cameras.

Burwell Parking, owned by the Bremer Trust, opened Wednesday with two floors of parking in the old J.C. Penney building at Pacific Avenue and Burwell Street. This added 175 auto parking spaces and 25 motorcycle spaces to the main floor, and 160 auto spaces plus motorcycle spaces to the basement. This is in addition to the long-standing 200 auto spaces on the roof, Rich McDonald, general manager for the Trust, said.

The conversion cost a bit more than $2 million, said officials.

In addition to lighting the lower two floors, 30 cameras have been installed and there will be an attendant on duty most of the time, McDonald said. Rates are $5.50 for 12 hours on the main level; $4.50 for the roof (it was $5); and $5 for the basement. Coin boxes will be used for the numbered stalls.

Monthly rates are available. For more information, call Burwell Parking at 377-5533.

The former J.C. Penney building occupies the city block bordered by Pacific and Washington avenues and Burwell and Second streets. The property is owned by the Trust — which owns many buildings in Bremerton and rents or sells properties (mostly office space) to generate money for Olympic College scholarships.

Other than using the roof for parking, the interior of the J.C. Penney building has been empty for years due to asbestos insulation.

Though now outlawed, asbestos was once considered the best material for insulation. It’s now considered potentially lethal to the lungs.

The old layer of asbestos was sprayed on ceilings of the main floor and basement and wrapped around pipes. Removing it was necessary — by law — before the interior could be used for anything else. Removing the toxic substance is dangerous and expensive, particularly in a structure the size and complexity of the J.C. Penney building.

Trust officials said that over the years, many potential buyers balked at the cost of removing the asbestos. The Trust finally decided to do the job itself. It cost $1 million to remove.

Asbestos abatement began May 30, 2001 and was expected to be completed by October. Contractors were to stripe floors shortly thereafter and the original plan was to open the facility in January 2002.

Dr. Michael Connolly, vice president of administration for OC, said “It didn’t take long to do the (asbestos removal) work — It went smoothly. It took longer to plan it. The (asbestos) bid specs had to be watertight. It took a couple months longer than we thought.”

Preparing for the removal involved sealing the building — every door, window, vent, crack and mouse hole. Pacific Rim Environmental, a Tukwila-based quality-control firm, oversaw removal of the toxic substance by Grayhawk Construction of Bothell.

After workers removed carpeting, partitions, shelving and other non-asbestos materials, sections of the interior were sealed off with hundreds of square yards of heavy plastic sheeting to create “enclosures.”

Each enclosed area was plugged into a negative air-pressure machine to induce a slight vacuum to keep asbestos fibers from escaping.

Workers wore protective clothing and air masks during the abatement.

City and Trust officials had been thinking about converting the building for years — either into additional parking, retail space or government offices. J.C. Penney vacated the structure in the late 1980s. The store was built in the early 1960s.

Connolly said the Trust has 150,000 square feet of offices in town in addition to the 150,000 square feet in the J.C. Penney building.

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