Visitor kiosk more costly due to new design

Jennifer Mauro, Nancy Rowan, Dr. Craig Weinston and Trevor Arnold helped clean up the future site of the new South Whidbey visitor center. - Michaela Marx Wheatley
Jennifer Mauro, Nancy Rowan, Dr. Craig Weinston and Trevor Arnold helped clean up the future site of the new South Whidbey visitor center.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley

Next spring, possibly sooner, a gem of a visitor center will grace the corner of Highway 525 and Langley Road. For now, it’s just a diamond in the rough.

The wooden visitor kiosk sits on the bare corner of the intersection next to the Exxon gas station on Ken’s Corner. To make it more inviting, renovations and park-like landscaping are planned for the joint project between the Langley and Freeland chambers of commerce.

Representatives of both chambers met at the site recently to begin clean-up and kick the latest project phase into gear.

It started out as a small project, but as planning progressed the involved parties realized the project was bigger and more expensive than anticipated.

“As we delved deeper into the project the joint Langley and Freeland kiosk committee hoped to improve upon a simple building without power or telephone and looked at other issues we hadn’t previously considered. We were not interested in just slapping something together and calling it good,” said Dann Schroader, president of the Freeland Chamber.

The chambers decided to put the time and money forward to create a top-notch visitor center.

Nancy Rowan, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, said the kiosk was scheduled to open in early May, but the opening date was pushed back. A new date has not been set.

The planning group needs more time to work out details and secure additional funding for the project.

“The project is more complex than anybody anticipated,” Rowan said.

Initially, the move of the kiosk to the location was expected to cost $2,000, and Freeland and Langley chambers agreed to share the cost. But soon it became clear that the project would require more than that to be a success.

“The Langley Chamber has invested over $5,000 to date covering the moving of the kiosk, foundation work and other activities. The Freeland Chamber has pledged an additional $2,000,” he said.

As the improved design took shape, it was determined that the funds necessary to provide a first-class facility were not readily available in the two chambers’ budgets. Additional funding sources were needed, Schroader said.

The chambers are still gathering information concerning the final cost since the revised designs, which will drive the cost, were only finished recently.

The project is now being touted to a local civic group as a possible capital improvement project. A presentation to that group is to be made this week, Schroader said.

“Its outcome will help determine the shape of the project’s future,” Schroader said.

Todd Bitts, board member of the Freeland chamber, said the project is finally shaping up. With personnel changes in the Langley chamber, it took a while until everyone involved was up to speed and it was sorted out what had been decided in earlier meetings.

“It’s been difficult to get our arms around it,” Bitts said.

Serving as a gateway to the island, the project has now found a third supporter.

“We have invited the newly, reconstituted Clinton Chamber of Commerce to work with us. They have accepted the invitation and are already involved with the committee,” Schroader said.

The kiosk committee also enlisted two local experts to help realize the project: landscape artist Fran Abel and architect Rick Brown.

“My vision at the visitor kiosk is a display garden with pathways winding throughout connecting the various aspects at the corner – crosswalks, bus shelters, kiosk, parking, coffee, gas station and mini-store,” Abel said.

The south area of the garden needs to remain low — not higher than 18 inches, due to state Department of Transportation rules — and in full sun so it can be a drought-tolerant garden, she explained.

On the north side, the vegetation will transition into native plantings creating shade for hot summer days. The garden will be very low maintenance.

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