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High Bids Delay Pioneer Center Project

Construction may soon grind to a halt

Construction work on the Klickitat County Pioneer Center complex in White Salmon may soon grind to a halt, at least temporarily, after the bids for construction of the new building all came in high.

On Aug. 17, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners opened five bid packages from construction companies in Portland, Hood River, and Hermiston, Ore.

The commissioners were surprised by what they read. Bids ranged from a low of $3.7 million to as high as $4.5 million.

The county had estimated approximately $2.5 million for the building.

"It's really disappointing," said County Commissioner Don Struck. "The cost of most construction materials, lumber and steel in particular, are really high right now. I don't know what we're going to do."

The Pioneer Center, on NE East across from the White Salmon post office, was planned as a two-story, 24,000 square foot facility that would house a senior center with kitchen, the county Health Department, Senior Services, personnel office, and the west end annex services to help county residents obtain building permits and deal with property taxes, for example, without having to travel to Goldendale.

Struck said it was possible the county could alter the building's specifications to lower costs.

"The plan was not outlandish in terms of construction," Struck explained. "And it would be hard to cut the square footage, because the building will be filled as soon as it's done. But if we're re-bidding, we'll pare down the project so it's more affordable. We might look at other funding sources too. We definitely want to do this, but we don't want to strap the county coffers, either."

Struck said he was not yet sure if the project would need to be re-bid.

"I don't know if we can work with the low bidder, or if we would have to re-bid," Struck said. "At this point, I'm not sure what the legalities are."

If the construction phase needs to be re-bid, that would mean a delay to get started on the building of anywhere from 60-90 days.

Another option is to complete one phase of the building now, but hold off on a planned "second phase" until more money becomes available. That plan would mean the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office and West District Court would not be housed in the Pioneer Center until later.

"That is probably the main option, if we can't find other ways to get the price down," Struck said. "Maybe we could put aside enough landfill money in two or three years to complete phase two of the building."

Klickitat County Sheriff Chris Mace said that would not be a hardship as far as he was concerned.

"It really doesn't matter as far as we go, we've got a temporary office," Mace explained. "It's a nice building, and it's in a handy location. If we're staying there a bit longer, though, we're going to need to find more storage space."

Mace pointed out, however, that he felt bad for the seniors of the community, who have waited for a long time to have a place to gather and to call their own.

"I feel for the seniors. They are the ones really needing something," Mace said. "As far as the Sheriff's Office, we can get by."

Struck noted that it might cost more in the long run to stage the building into two construction cycles.

"It's not going to get any cheaper," he said.

Earlier in the year, Klickitat County Public Works Director Larry Nicholas projected that the county would save about $480,000 by completing the building in one phase.

The Pioneer Center building was originally projected to be done by October 2004. After the county decided to combine the two-step building strategy into one step, that date was pushed to January 2005. Later the completion date slipped again, to summer 2005.

Mary Ann Voigt, president of the Senior Center, expressed surprise when she learned of the snags over the bidding, but declined to comment further.

At this point, there is no clear way to predict when the building might be completed.

"We figured about 10 months of construction once the building phase starts," he said. "We had hoped to start next month and have it ready by next summer. But it's not like there is an emergency, and there is no particular time crunch. For now, we can get by with what we have now."

The initial step of the project -- site preparation -- has been virtually completed. A crew from Anderson Environmental Contracting, a Kelso business, is expected to be done leveling the site and preparing the foundation no later than Sept. 1. Groundbreaking for that aspect of the plan came on March 22.

The Board of County Commissioners were scheduled to meet on Aug. 24 to determine what course to follow in an effort to complete the Pioneer Center project.

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