Architect explains food bank design

My name is Ross Anderson and I am the architect for the new North Valley Food Bank. June Munski-Feenan, the Food Bank founder and executive director, along with other food bank board members have asked me to write this letter in response to questions the board has received about the perceived high price of the proposed new facility.

First, I would like to mention that the food bank initially hoped to move into a larger existing building. An extensive search failed to find a suitable facility.

Some buildings are the right size, but have other limitations. For example, the old Master Plumbing building on Baker Avenue would be an acceptable structure, but has too little parking. Other vacant buildings presented other problems that would be costly to overcome.

In the end, the food bank board decided that it made more fiscal sense to build a new structure. They formed a Fundraising Committee comprised of local citizens that believe in this mission. Together we looked at land and construction costs and operating expenses over the long run.

With all of these factors in mind, the Fundraising Committee agreed that the goal should be to raise $1.5 million. Only half of this amount would be allotted to land purchase and construction. The other half would go toward an endowment fund to help cover operational and maintenance costs.

Longtime Whitefish donors suggested that we incorporate this endowment portion into the overall financial goal to be sure that this project is sustainable in the future.

We are fortunate that volunteers have run our North Valley Food Bank and have taken no wages for more than 30 years. With the added stress and work needed to help a growing number of needy citizens, paid staff will likely be necessary in the future.

Operational and maintenance costs will also go up in the years to come. The Food Bank endowment fund will yield yearly interest payments that will make sure we are on sound financial ground in the future. After failing to find an existing building to renovate, the food bank board of directors decided that the plan should be to purchase a suitable piece of property that would provide good access, adequate parking, and the least expensive construction costs possible.

The plot of land near The Wave on the corner of Flathead Avenue and West 15th Street became available for sale for the reasonable price of $213,000. The Board jumped on this opportunity and purchased it in June, 2011. Soon after, I was chosen as the local architect for this project, and I designed a 4,750 square foot single story facility for this site.

With essential structural requirements in mind, the design for the new food bank building could not be more simple and cost effective. It is basically a warehouse for food storage and the estimated $120 per square foot construction price reflects this simplicity.

The floors are concrete, and the walls are concrete with rigid insulations on both sides. The roof is comprised of simple span wood trusses.

The Food Bank Board of Directors wants to raise enough money to pay for construction outright before starting any construction. In the meantime, we have received an outpouring of support from our local construction industry. I am amazed by the generosity shown by local contractors and suppliers in this down economy.

Many contractors are willing to donate a significant portion of their labor, and many suppliers have indicated they will donate materials, including Plum Creek who has pledged to donate a great deal the lumber. I am confident that our project will come in under $100 per square foot with all of the goodwill in Whitefish.

Recently, members of the public have commented to the Fundraising Committee that some aspects of the new food bank design seem to be excessive or unnecessarily expensive. I would like to discuss those aspects that have been mentioned and attempt to explain the reasoning for their inclusion in the design.

The kitchen has been targeted as excessive and expensive and not typical of a usual food bank kitchen. Part of the mission of the new North Valley Food Bank will be to hold classes for the public in nutrition, food preparation, and safe food storage.

Because of this, the kitchen is designed to be larger than traditional food bank kitchens. Communities with this education component to their food bank have demonstrated that people taking these classes have become more self-sufficient and are an overall benefit to the community.

The raised center dormers and their associated row of windows have been thought of as an expensive detail to just add curb appeal. This could not be further from the truth. The dormers are designed to maximize the use of daylight in the most frequently used areas.

An extensive study in collaboration with the Integrated Design Lab operated by Montana State University and supported by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and NorthWestern Energy was conducted before the design was finalized. The raised dormers and the row of windows add up to substantial savings by using natural light instead of having to turn the lights on all the time.

Copious natural light will also create a healthier, more pleasant environment for the volunteers who will work there and the members of the public who will use it.

The only other design component that has been mentioned as possibly excessive is the choice of exterior finishes. This also is unfounded. The roof will be a standard metal product that is initially a little more expensive than asphalt shingles, but a better value over time because it lasts much longer.

Lap siding will cover 70 percent of the building and is a fiber cement product. It is one of the most cost effective, durable and low-maintenance ways to cover a structure.

Stone veneer will cover the remaining 30 percent of the building to protect the lower walls near the public cart entry, delivery, and refuse areas of the building only. In the design, I did add a two-foot section of stone upwards on the corners for aesthetic reasons only.

We considered removing this feature to save cost, but local philanthropist John Kramer stepped in and funded all the stonework as initially drawn. We hope the building’s appearance will demonstrate respect for those in need, our neighbors, and Whitefish’s historic character.

The Food Bank Board of Directors has done a great job with all of our donations in the past and will continue to make every dollar count. If you would like to donate materials, services or make a pledge, please call the Food Bank at 862-5863. — Ross Anderson