Washougal grapples with rundown facility

Short-term repairs to operations center could cost city between $1.5M and $1.8M; replacement likely would cost at least $26M

City of Washougal leaders say they cannot wait any longer to address the city’s deteriorating operations center.

During the council’s May 23 workshop Washougal Public Works Director Trevor Evers proposed a series of renovations and upgrades to the facility’s eight buildings, which Evers said have fallen into a significant state of disrepair.

The center is facing several issues, Evers said, including: insufficient insulation, unsealed cracks and holes, outdated single-pane doors and windows, a lack of fire protection, roof leakage, dented walls, poor security measures, bad lighting, and no access for people with disabilities as required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Obviously, we’ve got some compromised conditions at the operations center,” Evers said, estimating the upgrades would likely cost between $1.5 million and $1.8 million. “There’s similar themes (in each) of these buildings.”

Several city council members strongly criticized the condition of the buildings during the May 23 workshop.

“That facility is pretty terrible,” Councilmember David Stuebe said. “It’s embarrassing. We should’ve been looking at that a long time ago. I’m looking at fire hazards and code (violations) … It’s pretty urgent.”

“Back in my other life, when I was a human resources attorney for a county, we would do contract negotiations, and I would lead with, ‘What kind of employer do you want to be?’ I feel like that now,” Councilmember Janice Killion said. “I’m blown away that the city operates with so few employees as it is, so to house them in facilities like that really upsets me. That’s not a place where anybody should be. It seems like a real priority to find money somewhere.”

Councilmember Michelle Wagner believes city officials should prioritize the proposed upgrades.

“Some (decisions) are easy. This is easy,” Wagner said. “You know I like to penny-pinch, but I’m like, ‘Wow, we have to do that.'”

Scott said the city “absolutely has to act in the short-term at these facilities,” adding that the current situation is “untenable.”

“For the last few years, we have undertaken facilities assessments and been chipping away one at a time — we’ve done some work here (at Washougal City Hall) and across the street, the public works executive house, the treatment plant, and the police station,” Scott said. “(The operations center) ended up last on the list. But yes, I would say that when I came here in 2010, there was a significant deficit in utilities maintenance, and it’s a funding question. There just wasn’t funding to do it, and then we were in the Great Recession. But we’re getting there. Hopefully we’ll be able to take care of these things.”

Evers proposed a short-term plan that would include adding a locker room/restroom and a lunch/conference room in Building A; demolishing buildings B and C, and replacing them with a modular office facility; “repairing and maintaining” buildings D, E and F; and constructing an open parking bay at Building H.

“In the short-term plan, we’ve got some immediate needs,” Evers said. “We’ve had some breaking and entering and some theft over the last several weeks and several months that’s peaked, so we do have some security enhancements that we need to install. Overhead doors, concrete floors, the proposed remodel of Building A, the modular, and the demolishing of Buildings B and C — this is very ‘high level.'”

Evers said council members could elect to use the surplus funds from the city’s 2021 general fund — about $725,000 — for the upgrades. Scott also noted the city could dip into its utilities budget to fund the project.

“Would we be able to cobble together $1.8 million to take care of all of these short-term priorities, between the general funds and the utility funds? That remains to be seen,” Scott said. “There might be some grants. Typically, on the utilities side it’s more about water quality and sewage treatment. You might be able to get your administrative and operational facilities kind of wrapped into that. But there aren’t any precise grants, like, ‘Oh, you need to fix up your ops center? Here’s the ops center fixer-upper grant.'”

Evers also proposed a long-term plan to construct a new, two-story administration building, a project that would likely cost the city at least $26 million.

“It’s a problem that cities deal with — your staff is spread out,” Scott said. “It would be really nice to have a consolidated office-slash-operations yard center so that everybody could be there, that could have room for us to grow into. If you build something like this, you will build it for another 20 to 40 years or something like that. This is a significant type of project.”

Scott said the city may need to ask voters to pass a bond to fund a project of that magnitude.

“This is pretty expensive, obviously,” Evers said of building a new operations center. “Not that we point the finger west to our partners, but Camas just did their operations assessment as well — much different scale, bigger city, more staff, more rolling stock, solid waste and garbage, but it was almost exactly double this. It was north of $52 million, I believe. I felt a little bit better, but not a whole lot better. … If you look at the cost of square foot (of our proposed new facility), just north of $223, that’s probably light by quite a bit. By tomorrow, (it will) probably be much different.”