Building renovation delays irk food bank board

Don Strong (left), chairman of the Grant County Food Bank, and volunteer Jerry Beil load boxes during a 2000 disbursement in the warehouse behind the Mini Mall.

CANYON CITY - Volunteers who provide food to the needy in Grant County are fed up with waiting for a new building.

Don Strong, chairman of the Grant County Food Bank, told the Grant County Court on Aug. 28 that the food bank board has set a deadline of Dec. 1 for the county to move them into a new building. Otherwise, the board members will walk away from their volunteer positions.

"We've just about had all we want," Strong warned the County Court.

The ambition of moving the food bank into a renovated building in east John Day has dangled before food bank volunteers for nearly two years.

It was Sept. 13, 2000, when Strong approached the County Court asking if the food bank could take up lodgings in a new business-incubation facility. Speculation at that time was that the building in east John Day, a 50-year-old motel unit fringing the former Forest Service headquarters along Highway 26, would be renovated by the following spring.

Deadlines came and went. Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds explained that architectural and budgetary hurdles leapt up to slow the project. However, he emphasized that county officials have not neglected their effort to create a private-public headquarters for business, health agencies and the food bank.

"I don't know what else we could be doing," Reynolds told Strong.

Commissioner Leonard Trafton added, "We're trying to get that L Building fixed up for you," referring to the motel unit where the telecenter and food bank will be located.

The project is moving forward, although at a frustratingly slow pace, county leaders concede.

On Aug. 21, the County Court approved a resolution and drafted an agreement with general contractor Mike Becker from La Grande to remodel the L Building. Budget for this renovation is $246,868.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring, former Forest Service office, electrical, sheetrocking and other interior work were under way late last month. Budget for this main building's renovation is $388,928. Contractor is W.C. Construction of Elgin.

The main building will house offices of the Grant County Center for Human Development and the Grant County Health Department. The northeastern corner of the L Building will be home to the telecenter, an Internet-based business site. The food bank and other offices are expected to take up residence in the nearby motel units.

Strong said he disliked the task of pressuring the County Court for action.

"We're a thorn in your side. We know that," he said.

Reynolds assured him that county leaders are pushing for the job's completion and described his own juggling act to protect grants, write advocacy letters for stopgap funding and usher architectural adjustments through a time-consuming, bureaucratic process.

Reynolds said the funding is in place, and the contractor is poised to commence renovations of the L Building. However, pending approval of a final contract, county leaders cannot specify a date of completion.

History of a grant-funded project

April 12, 2000 - Armed with what was then the promise of a $125,000 Federal Highway Administration grant (which later would shrink to $31,000), the Grant County Court decides to proceed with a feasibility study for construction of a combined telecommunications center and county health agency headquarters.

May 3, 2000 - The Grant County Court holds a scoping meeting to develop proposed sites for the telecenter/health agency headquarters building.

June 14, 2000 - The Grant County Court votes 3-0 to accept a report of findings from consultant Stan Foster concerning the proposed location for this facility. A promising site is a former Forest Service office and neighboring L-shaped Building, a defunct motel unit in east John Day.

July 26, 2000 - The Grant County Court votes 3-0 to pursue acquisition of the former Forest Service headquarters and motel unit.

Sept. 13, 2000 - Don Strong, chairman of the Grant County Food Bank, asks the County Court if the food bank can take up lodgings in the new facility. The County Court takes the request under consideration. Foster estimates total cost of the property acquisition and renovation for the telecenter/health agency headquarters building will be $899,735.

Dec. 20, 2000 - Businessman Dale Mosier of John Day steps up as sole bidder to buy the existing building which houses the Grant County Center for Human Development. Submission of a bid allows the county to proceed with purchase of the new property in east John Day for the health and mental health agencies, telecenter and food bank.

Jan. 24, 2001 - The Grant County Court learns that grant acquisition will be made easier if the county relocates the telecenter portion of the project from the main building into the neighboring L Building.

Aug. 22, 2001 - After months of pursuing grant sources and securing commitments for a total of $1.025 million, Foster informs the County Court that his contracting work for the county is completed.

April 11, 2002 - After months of architectural design work and budget fine-tuning, the county identifies W.C. Construction of Elgin as lowest bidder for the job of renovating the old Forest Service building to house the health and mental health agencies. The low bid of $416,819 is well above the county's budget of $380,000. Later, Mike Becker of La Grande submits the low bid of $290,000 to renovate the motel unit, where the telecenter and food bank are to be located. That bid also exceeds the original cost estimate, which was $190,000. Value engineering commences to shave costs so the county can stay within budget.

Aug. 28, 2002 - Strong notifies the County Court that food bank volunteers are tired of waiting for a new building.

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