There has been a significant shift in thinking regarding the long-proposed building of a West End Annex/Senior Center building in White Salmon.
Klickitat County has contracted with Bainbridge Design, Inc., a Portland engineering firm, to determine whether the White Salmon Park Center could be remodeled and expanded to house the county services annex, a senior center, and a performing arts center.
If the review comes up with a positive finding, plans to construct a new building on the open lot across from the post office would be shelved.
"We met with the city and the school district, and we all feel that if this works it would be best for everyone," said Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck. "They [Bainbridge] will report back and make a recommendation with cost estimates within 60 days."
According to Struck, the study will look at the roughly 19,000 square foot Park Center's suitability for the proposed new uses. Among other issues, Bainbridge will determine the building's compatibility to meet requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, whether it can be retrofitted to handle stresses from potential earthquakes, and how parking could be accommodated.
Struck added that he hoped turning to the Park Center would result in getting an annex/senior center facility operating at reduced cost and sooner than building a new structure.
However, representatives of area seniors were surprised and upset to hear of the potential shift in location for the senior center.
"The county never notified anybody about this that I know of," said Mary Ann Voight, president of the Klickitat County Senior Council. "Oh for heaven's sake. They keep running us along. I haven't heard anything about it."
Stan Rapp, who has been working on the senior center project for several years, said he knew nothing about the possible shift to the Park Center building.
"I'm sure I would have heard that, because everything was on track for the senior services center. I haven't heard that," Rapp said.
Voight added that she has been frustrated lately at the failure of Commissioner Struck to contact her.
"I've written to Don, I've called Don, and he never answers me. It's been over a week," she said. "I don't know what's going on. I feel we've been put out to pasture."
Seniors like the original location of the proposed senior center due to its proximity to the post office, to Thriftway, and to the nearby Beth El-Shalom senior housing complex.
The Park Center is owned by the White Salmon Valley School District, but is under a 20-year lease to the city of White Salmon. That lease is in effect for another 18 years.
White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen said the study was initiated in the thought that it might be easier to get funding to augment the existing structure than to start from scratch with a new building.
Roger Gadway, director of Klickitat County Senior Services, said he thought the Park Center had already been considered -- and nixed -- as a site for a senior center.
"We're back to re-evaluating the Park Center," Gadway said. "I thought we were beyond that, but apparently not. It doesn't seem like a step forward at this point, but I'm reserving judgment."
Mayor Holen added that he understood the concerns of the seniors, who have been working and waiting to see a gathering place built for several years.
"I think the seniors at this point are very frustrated at the pace this is going," explained Holen. "We need a senior center."
Struck said that everything that exists in the west end currently would go into the Park Center, plus a few other departments.
"The treasurer, auditor, and assessor would also have a presence," Struck explained. "Hopefully this proposal would be both quicker and cheaper to put together. If the report gives the go-ahead, I don't know when construction would start. I'm hoping this year, but we can't if it's way too much money."
"Until we get that report, no one knows which way this is going to go," Holen pointed out.
Struck said the current budget estimate for the building project is $1.5 million.
"If they look at the Park Center and say, `Nope, you're better off to build new,' then the firm will do the same study at the site near the post office and make recommendations there," Struck said.
The engineer's report, which is costing the county $16,900, is expected to be completed within about six weeks.
Rapp pointed out that Klickitat County Commissioner Joan Frey will be in White Salmon on May 8. Frey was scheduled to speak at the senior luncheon at the Park Center, and is expected to provide an update on plans for the senior center.
"I'm sure that'll be the main topic," Struck said.