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Pioneer Center gets green light

Cutting costs will be essential to project

The Klickitat County Pioneer Center building project appears to be back on track.

According to Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck, the county will continue with the building, which had been thrown into jeopardy after all five of the contractors' bids opened on Aug. 17 came in much higher than anticipated. The county had estimated $2.5 million for the 24,000 square foot building, but the lowest bid came in at $3.7 million.

"We're going to go forward with the project," Struck said on Tuesday. "Everybody said it's a good project and it's not going to get any cheaper, so let's bite the bullet and get it done now."

A two-story facility that would house a senior center with a kitchen as well as quarters for the Klickitat County Health Department, Senior Services, the West District Court, the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, Personnel Department, and a county services annex is planned for the site, which is adjacent to the White Salmon post office.

The decision ends speculation that the county might break construction of the facility into two phases. Under that scenario, room for the West District Court and the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office would not have been included until as long as two or three years after the first phase was completed.

The reaction to the decision to give the project a green light was greeted with enthusiasm by Roger Gadway, director of Klickitat County Senior Services.

"It's a relief," said Gadway, who has been a key voice in support of getting a senior center built in the community. "I'm thrilled it's going ahead. We've been looking forward to it for a long time."

In an effort to bring the construction costs down, however, the county will seek ways to reduce the cost for materials.

"We're doing a value-engineering exercise," Struck explained. "We'll sit down and look at the major components of construction and see where we can save money without compromising the project. Some of the construction materials were overkill in some areas, and we think we can cut $300,000-$500,000 off the top."

However, he added that leaves the county still approximately $1.5 million over budget for the new center, which has a total price tag of about $5 million when the land purchases, engineering, site preparation work, and all the construction work are figured in.

Struck said it was still to be decided whether the project would be paid for from the county's cumulative reserves -- basically landfill funds -- or through up to $2 million in general obligation bonds that would be paid back over an eight-year period.

The county also has $900,000 in grants that have been set aside for the building.

Struck said he expected the bid to begin the building phase of the Pioneer Center to be awarded later this week. The contractor is based in the Portland area, but has not yet been identified pending formal awarding of the bid.

"They could be ready to start as soon as Oct. 1," Struck said. "But that might be a little optimistic."

Struck said the building would require between eight and 10 months to complete.


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