PENINSULA POLL BACKGROUNDER: Future of old Port Angeles fire hall building unclear after county commissioners disinterested
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
The former Port Angeles fire hall on South Lincoln Street is in need of short-term stabilization as well as long-term repairs.
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The city-owned building at 215 S. Lincoln St. has fallen into disrepair, needing $229,511 for short-term stabilization and $2.2 million for long-term restoration for potential use as a veterans center.
City Manager Dan McKeen has said an unnamed interested party had offered the city $5 for the Depression-era art deco building with a promise to fund its restoration.
In a Thursday email to Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones, McKeen said the city couldn't afford to pay for the maintenance or restoration and asked the county whether it wanted the building to keep it in public ownership.
“In my personal view, I don't think we're in a position to be able to afford this right now,” Commissioner Jim McEntire said in a 45-minute discussion on the issue.
Commissioner Mike Chapman added: “I'm not interested in taking the building from the city.”
“I think all of us would work with the city on whatever your plans are,” Chapman told Port Angeles Deputy Mayor Brad Collins, who attended the work session to answer questions.
“No one's saying we don't want to work together.”
City and county officials have been working together since 2011 to look for grants to at least partially restore the 6,238-square-foot building.
Clallam County this year budgeted $300,000 to match city funds or a grant that didn't come through.
McEntire noted that the county's preliminary budget for 2014 is $500,000 in the red.
“That just underscores where I think we are vis-a-vis the affordability,” he said, “because it's in for a penny, in for a pound.”
Commissioner Mike Doherty said he would have preferred to share the responsibility of the fire hall's restoration with the city but was prepared to support the county taking ownership if the city “actually wanted to get rid of it.”
No formal vote was taken.
After the meeting, Jones informed McKeen in an email that a majority of commissioners were not in support of owning the building and taking on the entire responsibility of restoration without city support.
Jones told McKeen that a majority of the board also was willing to hold the $300,000 for another six months or so “to allow for any city/county partnership opportunity that might be able to be developed.”
Doherty said the historic fire hall is “pretty important for the community, I think, as an asset.”
Other parts of the historic district are the Clallam County Courthouse, Museum at the Carnegie and Veterans Memorial Park.
City officials have declined to name the interested party because of a request to remain anonymous.
Doherty questioned whether the city has done any due diligence on the “mystery person.”
“Do they actually have money to do what they say they're going to do?” he asked.
“Has anybody looked into that?”
Doherty said the county could “put up some money to at least stabilize the building so it doesn't further deteriorate” and find grants to fund its full restoration.
The building has been envisioned as a replacement for the Clallam County Veterans Center because of its prominence in the historic district and proximity to Veterans Memorial Park, where veterans ceremonies are held.
Terry Roth, vice president of the Clallam County Veterans Association, said the existing veterans center at the corner of Third and Francis streets lacks functional space.
“We don't look at that building, or the building we're in, as a monument to veterans,” he said.
Additionally, Roth said it was “insulting” for the veterans association to be kept out of the loop on negotiations about the future of the fire hall.
He added that the existing veterans center at 261 S. Francis St. could be an asset to Olympic Peninsula YMCA, the city or another party.
Doherty said most veterans centers are situated in highly visible civic districts.
“Right now, our veterans are in a run-down wooden building hidden in a neighborhood on the east side of town,” Doherty said.
“This [fire hall] is a much more respectful position. It's a public municipal building.
“It seems very logical, it seems patriotic, all of those things.”
McEntire said what happens to the fire hall is ultimately the city's decision.
Doherty asked for more time to continue discussions with the city.
“I can't believe the city would just let that building be torn down,” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: September 17. 2013 6:11PM