News Releases

Murray Saves Bellingham Federal Building and Post Office

Jul 01 2004

Murray presents $2.61 million check to the City of Bellingham to renovate the historic building

(WASHINGTON D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray joined Bellingham residents to celebrate the transfer of Bellingham's Federal Building to the city. In December 2002, Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson wrote to Senator Murray to stop the General Service Administration from surplusing the building. Murray secured $2.61 million to renovate and restore the historic building, keeping it a historic part of the city of Bellingham.

At the event, Murray participated in a formal transfer of ownership, the signing of a lease and presented a $2.61 million check to the City of Bellingham.

"This check symbolizes our efforts to honor our history as we build a better future," Murray said. "I secured this money to ensure that this beautiful, historic building belongs to the people Bellingham well into the future."

Senator Murray's full remarks as follow:

Thank you, Jon. It's great to be here today to celebrate the transfer of Bellingham's Federal Building to the city. This is a special day for Bellingham, and it's truly taken a team effort to bring it about.

I'd like to thank Mayor Asmundson for his tireless work on behalf of the people of Bellingham, Congressman Rick Larsen for his efforts and everyone here who has helped to keep this historic building in public hands.

The $2.61 million check I'll present today is a product of our teamwork and cooperation. This check symbolizes our efforts to honor our history as we build a better future. I secured this money to ensure that this beautiful, historic building belongs to the people Bellingham well into the future.

You know, this building was built to belong to the people of Bellingham. When it was built, federal buildings had always been designed with an imposing staircase leading to the entrance. But Hugh Eldridge, the town postmaster, wanted to make this a different kind of building. So he told the architect that Bellingham's Federal Building and Post Office had to be designed with all its entrances at street level.

This was a sharp break from how federal buildings were usually designed – in fact the Bellingham Federal Building was the first building of its kind to use this approach. Why did he make this bold decision?

Because he knew that putting entrances at street level – instead of raising them high above the ground – would make the building more accessible to the residents of Bellingham – especially the elderly and handicapped. He also knew that this design would make the building an integral part of the community. And he was right.

It's no wonder that when Mayor Asmundson wrote me in December of 2002 to ask for my help in keeping it in public hands, he was passionate about the cause. Mayor Asmundson told me in his letter that like any aging building, this one needed a significant amount of retrofitting and renovation to bring it up to date. But because of the great cost of these projects, the General Services Administration had decided to surplus the building. Mayor Asmundson made it clear that this building is too important to Bellingham for it to be sold or destroyed.

At the time I received his letter, I knew the building had a rich history. But it wasn't until I got actively involved in the effort that I learned just how important it is. I learned that it has been a vital part of Bellingham life for 90 years. It has been a post office; it has housed several federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration; and it has served as a place where the community comes together to show unity and have their voices heard. So, I saw that keeping this building was important because it's a symbol of Bellingham's past.

But as I spoke to local leaders, I also learned that with the right improvements this symbol of the past could contribute significantly to the community's future. I knew that, all across the nation, historic buildings have served as anchors for the revitalization of communities.

And, after I heard from Mayor Asumundson, I knew that this building could help do the same for Bellingham. By providing important services to senior citizens and the public, and making it possible for people to get the services they need here in downtown, this building could help strengthen people's connection to the area and could help create a sense of community for residents.

Well, it was clear to me that this building is too important to Bellingham's past and future for us to let it slip away. So, shortly after receiving Mayor Asmundson's letter, I wrote the General Services Administrator. In my letter, which was also signed by Congressman Larsen and Senator Maria Cantwell, I urged the GSA to reconsider its decision to dispose of the building. I insisted that we could bring the renovation costs down to a manageable level, and that we could get the money to make the renovations happen. The city committed to take over the renovated building, and together, we convinced the GSA to transfer this vital local landmark to the people of Bellingham at less than a third of the cost of the GSA's original estimate. And, as Ranking Member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I worked to secure the $2.61 million necessary to bring the building up to date.

Today, I'm so proud to present this symbolic check for $2.61 million so that this building, which has always belonged to the people of Bellingham, continues to belong to you. And I want you to know that I'm going to keep fighting in the United States Senate for projects that respect our past and let us make a stronger future for Washington.