After years of dreaming and hoping, a crowd of approximately 35 citizens -- primarily seniors -- showed up at the Park Center last Thursday to hear about plans to build a new senior center/county services annex in White Salmon.
The session was billed as a public workshop to take input on the building. Citizens were encouraged to offer ideas about what they would like to see included in the facility.
In his opening remarks, Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck acknowledged the long wait to get the building finally off the ground.
"This is an exciting and historic moment. Did we ever think it would happen?" Struck said.
Struck advised the group that construction of the facility -- to be called the West Klickitat County Pioneer Center -- would begin at the start of 2004, with completion expected by the end of October.
"This is the last step in gathering information on the design," Struck said. "We'd like to get your thoughts and expectations on the Pioneer Center and what you'd like the building to do."
Plans call for a two-story, 24,000 square foot facility that will be completed in two phases to keep initial expenses down. The senior center, as well as the county's Health Department, Senior Services, and the "west end services annex" will be moved into the new building in the first phase.
"Ultimately, this will be a place for all county services under one roof, and a place for the senior center," Struck said. "It will be the senior meal site, and a place for seniors to gather. That is the most important use. This will be a facility we will all be proud of for many years."
Struck added that an effort will be made to salvage some of the old beams from the Klickitat mill site to incorporate into the new facility.
Part of the concept of the building will be to pay tribute to the heritage of Klickitat County. That will include honoring pioneer families in the county, as well as "focusing on our timber, cattle, agriculture, and history," Struck said.
"You're talking about a facility that's about the folks who live here, not just a generic building," said Sid Scott, architect for Scott/Edwards Architecture of Portland, the firm handling the new building. "That's a wonderful idea."
One resident suggested that Indian history be included as part of the building.
However, another cautioned against having a facility that focused too much on the past.
"I think it should be a working building for people, not a museum," said Ginger Burton of Glenwood.
"First the architects will design the whole building, then we'll decide how to phase it," Struck said. "We budgeted $2 million for phase one. We hope that covers it."
"We want to emphasize community involvement in the building. We view this as your project," Scott added.
Eventually, West District Court will be located in the new building, as well as the Adult Probation and Juvenile Probation departments, Personnel Department, and the Klickitat County Sheriff's west end office.
Some seniors expressed concern about having people with criminal backgrounds coming and going in the same building as the senior center.
Andrea Bainbridge, president of Bainbridge Design, a Portland company working with the architects, sought to reassure the group that access would be controlled.
"You won't be crossing paths with any low-lifes," Bainbridge said.
"This building is potentially designed for eight different groups. With that come issues of access. We want a cohesive building, but still have separate entries for all groups," Struck said.
Commissioner Struck also noted that the other agencies are not likely to be moving in soon.
"Phase two may be a few years down the road," Struck said.
Scott said designers would stress two key points in regards to making the building enjoyable for seniors.
"We're really focused on creating an area where seniors can come in to the building in a dry, safe area; and where there is close parking and access to senior transportation," Scott explained.
Struck made it clear that he wanted the people using the building to be happy with the end result.
"I've lived here nearly 50 years, and hope to live here another 50 years," he joked. "I don't want people to be dissatisfied. We'll do our best to listen to the people who will use the building."
Struck pointed out that the building will not be geared solely to citizens of the immediate White Salmon area.
"We want to make people aware this is not just a White Salmon project, it's for the entire western end of the county. It's their building too, and we will involve all the communities," Struck explained.
He added that the County Commissioners will hold some meetings in the new facility so residents won't have to travel to Goldendale to attend the sessions.
Stan Rapp, who chaired the New Senior Center Organizing Committee, said he wanted architects to consider the assisted living needs of seniors in the design process.
Rapp suggested that a therapeutic spa be included for the senior center.
Scott said he welcomed Rapp's idea.
"This is what we want to hear," Scott said. "Don't limit yourself."
Struck noted, however, that costs would have to be looked at before a decision on a spa or other extras could be made.
Rapp said he'd also like to see the use of lava rock at the entrance to the building.
"The idea of using indigenous material is one of our themes," Scott replied.
White Salmon resident Joe Paris said he was interested in the new building because of the experience of his grandmother in a senior center where she lived. Paris said the center was a vital part of her life.
"She had the opportunity to do ceramics, get a whirlpool bath, have lunch, and most importantly, she had a chance to tell her stories," Paris said.
After the meeting, Roger Gadway, director of Klickitat County Senior Services, said he was happy with the progress.
"I'm feeling pretty good about the whole thing," Gadway said. "Everybody believes it's happening and is optimistic. The architect has done a good job of listening, and we're anxious to see what they come up with for the design."