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City deeds Park Center back to school district

Grounds to remain open to public

White Salmon's City Council held a special Monday session, and the three council members present voted unanimously to return the Park Center building to the White Salmon Valley School District.

Before the council met for the special session, school district Superintendent Dale Palmer said the school district, owner of the building, was considering leasing the Park Center to a third party.

"Once we have the deed to the building back, we can do our own special board meeting, and declare the building as surplus," Palmer explained. "That will allow us to lease or sell the building. We're not looking to sell, we are looking to lease the building."

One casualty of the transaction with the deed is that the Park Center will no longer be available for the city's Spring Festival, which will be held in early June this year.

"There won't be any activities in the building," Palmer said.

He added that the 20,000 square foot building could be leased to an entity by June, or the building could be out of service because of reconstruction or remodeling.

"We're waiting to see what's going to happen, so we don't want to commit the building for the Spring Festival. There are too many ifs, ands, or maybes between now and then," Palmer explained.

Palmer said the tennis courts and the Rhinegarten Park grounds would remain permanently open to the public.

"They [city of White Salmon] are also deeding the park back to us," Palmer said. "There will be an agreement with the city to maintain the park -- which they want to do and I want them to do -- and keep it open to the public."

"This only relinquishes the building and land underneath it, and does not impact the park," said Mayor Roger Holen.

"It's nice the deal doesn't include the park, but in the meantime, what do we do for a performing arts center?" asked council member Brad Roberts.

Council member Timi Keene said she would support returning the deed to the school district, with one condition.

"I'd like to see a letter sent in conjunction with this expressing our interest in maintaining the facility for public use after a lessee no longer has a lease," Keene explained. "It's important to formally express our interest in maintaining this as a public facility."

Holen agreed.

"The city and school share a tacit agreement in principal that, long-term, this should be a public building," Holen said.

Citing ongoing negotiations, Palmer declined to name any individual or company that might be interested in leasing the building.

Currently, there are three tenants still in the Park Center: the headquarters of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, the Underwood Conservation District, and the school district's administrative office.

According to Palmer, all are likely to remain at the Park Center, at least for the immediate future.

"If things pan out, we're hoping they'll be allowed to stay. That's the current plan," Palmer said. "It depends on who wanted to move in and their ideas for using the building."

However, Mayor Holen said the Police Department would eventually have to vacate the building, "probably by late September."

The Park Center was constructed as a school in 1938, and has been owned by the school district ever since.

"It was part of the old Columbia Union High School," Palmer explained. "At that point, there was a gym, wood shop, and auto shop there."

In the 1970s, the building, which was not needed by the school district, was deeded to the city of White Salmon.

"When the Pioneer Center opened, the city no longer wanted or needed the Park Center, so they wanted to deed it back to us," Palmer explained. "It cost the city of White Salmon $65,000 a year to maintain that building."

According to Mayor Holen, the Monday night vote ended the city's management of the building.

"This is the last day we have any rights or responsibilities in regards to the building," Holen said.


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