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Groundbreaking In Spring 2003?

Study gives thumbs down to Park Center as senior center, west end annex

A $16,900 building study has revealed that the Park Center in White Salmon is not an economically feasible location for the long-proposed West End Annex/Senior Center.

Bainbridge Design, Inc., a Portland engineering firm, undertook a study of the Park Center building at the behest of Klickitat County. The study, launched in early May, was designed to answer one key question: would it be more efficient to construct a new building to house county offices and a senior center, or reconfigure the Park Center to that purpose?

It was hoped that by using an expanded, remodeled Park Center, a performing arts center could also be blended into the building.

However, when results of the study came last week, it appeared to shoot down hope that the 19,000 square foot Park Center could be used for the project.

"I don't see any way it could be cost-effective," said Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck. "Plus, I got calls from just about every senior in the county telling me we don't want to be up there [Park Center]. It was not a very popular spot."

"Based on the findings from the space evaluation, we determined that a 25,000 square foot facility would be required to meet the goals of the West Side Services," read an excerpt from the study provided by Bainbridge Design. "After analysis of the two proposed sites, locating this new facility on the East Avenue site [across from the post office] is the recommended option."

Representatives of the senior community said they considered the nixing of the Park Center to be good news, but some questioned the need for the study in the first place.

"We knew that the minute they looked at it," said Mary Ann Voigt, president of the Klickitat County Senior Council. "They just wasted $17,000 as far as I'm concerned. The study was absolutely uncalled for."

Struck said the engineer answered questions that needed to be answered.

"Bainbridge recommended that since there had been no seismic studies, before remodeling it would cost $20-$30 per square foot just to bring the building up to code," Struck said.

With construction costs at about $100 per square foot to build new commercial office space, the consensus was that it was more suitable to construct a new facility, especially since that would allow the facility to be tailored for specific uses.

The county currently owns land across the street from the post office in White Salmon, and a combined West End Annex/Senior Center has long been projected to go there.

Struck said the latest study confirmed that the county-owned site makes the most sense.

Andrea Bainbridge, one of the business owners, noted that her firm's study was a draft only, and still preliminary.

"We presented options and ideas for both sites, and listed pros and cons," Bainbridge said. "ADA access to the Park Center would be more difficult than at the other site, and the original site is probably the more economical site. But it's still a work in progress."

Struck said the preliminary building design calls for a two-story structure that would include the county's health department, West District Court, the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, the adult/juvenile probation department, and other county services such as building and planning.

Struck said cost concerns for the project remained worrisome.

"The shocking part is that the growth projection for the next 20 years is that the rate of growth of the senior population in Klickitat County is one of the highest in the state," he said. "To build a facility that will take care of seniors' needs for the next 20 years, we would need a building a lot bigger than we thought."

Struck said the prototype of that facility had a projected cost of about $3.8 million.

"We can't afford that," Struck said. "The original estimate was $1.5 million, so we sent them back to the drawing board to see where we can cut. We need to size down the building. I'm hoping we can get that down to about 20,000 square feet. We can combine meeting rooms, for example. Each department doesn't need its own meeting room or its own rest rooms. Common uses would reduce the square footage required. We don't need two kitchens in the building."

Parking for between 60 and 100 cars is also planned.

Struck said he believes the best approach is to build the new facility in two phases, with the Senior Center and the Klickitat County Health Department included in phase one, then the West District Court and other services in phase two.

Lila Webberly, a Trout Lake resident who serves on a committee working to erect a center for west end seniors, said she was optimistic construction of a new building would begin soon.

"I'm pretty optimistic," Webberly said. "We're supposed to have groundbreaking next spring, and we're really excited about going into a new building. It will be so much easier for the seniors."

Webberly explained that the Park Center does not have enough kitchen space, and when the seniors work with crafts, there is no place to store materials, meaning everything has to be packed out. She also pointed out there are no viable safety exits for seniors, other than the fire escape, which could be difficult for the elderly to negotiate.

"I was pretty glad the Park Center didn't work out," Webberly said.

Struck said he is hopeful construction can begin in the spring of 2003.

However, White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen said he has doubts about the desirability of using the county property across from the post office.

"I'm personally questioning whether that is the best property for the West End Annex, senior center, and maybe even the performing arts center," Holen said.

Holen said there are several reasons why he doesn't think the proposed site adjacent to the post office would work. He said he believed "a lot of fill" would be required at the planned site, which is between the KCSO west end office and the current Senior Services Center building.

"East Avenue is really an alley," he added. "To put facilities that increase road traffic would create difficulties, especially with post office right there."

Holen went on to say that he did not believe the Park Center should be excluded as a viable option.

"We need to talk more about the feasibility of putting the facility next to the Park Center or some other place," Holen said.

Holen said there ought to be consideration of building a new facility next to the Park Center.

"Start with the senior center to the east of the existing Park Center. That would make some sense," he said. "Move the playground and the public rest rooms -- but that's pure speculation on my part. The property belongs to the school system, so they'd have to agree to it."

The Park Center building is owned by the White Salmon Valley School District, but is under lease to the city of White Salmon.

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