Report: Camas’ public works building inadequate

Possible solutions, which include expanding existing 28-year-old building and constructing a new facility, likely to cost between $54M and $59M

A new report shows the city of Camas’ nearly 30-year-old public works operations building is facing growing pains as the city continues to expand.

“The existing operations center is not adequate to continue serving the city’s existing or future needs, especially given the continued growth in population and staff,” Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall told the Camas City Council earlier this month.

The city’s current public works operations headquarters is located on a 3.7-acre site at Polk Street and Southeast Eighth Avenue, next to the city’s Oak Park. The main building, which supports most of the city’s public works operations, was built in 1994.

Consultants have said possible remedies for the aging facility — including a “split scenario” to expand and renovate the existing facility and build a satellite site, and a second option that would build a new facility on a 10- to 15-acre site — will likely cost between $54 million and $59 million.

“We’re not here asking for money for a new facility,” Wall told city council members at the March 7 workshop, “but we will talk about next steps.”

The report on the city’s public works operations building needs began in September 2021, when city council members approved a contract with TCF Architecture to help city staff analyze how the current operations center was keeping up with the needs of the public works department.

“The first thing we looked at was the existing site — the layout, how we use it, the inventory we have … and everything we have on the current site and need for that site,” Wall said.

Without enough space to store all of the city’s public works equipment inside, Wall said the city is currently keeping “millions of dollars worth of equipment” outside.

“Security on the site is tough,” Wall added. “We try to lock up everything we can. Even the tires we store outside are locked up.”

Despite the staff’s best efforts, the space is vulnerable to theft, Wall said.

“We’ve had multiple cases of break-ins. People will make holes in the fence, grab what they can and back out again,” he told city councilors in early March.

The TCF study also showed the public works building will likely be unable to accommodate the number of staff needed to run the city’s various public works programs within the next 20 years. Current personnel projections show the city will need to double its public works staff — who help maintain everything from the city’s streets and parks to its sewer, solid waste and water infrastructure — over the next two decades, increasing from 55 public works staff members to 112 by 2041.

“While improved technology and equipment help to increase work productivity, planning ahead for reasonable growth in personnel is highly recommended,” the TCF report stated, adding that planning a building that will fully accommodate public works staff members also means planning for a space with adequate locker rooms, restrooms and personal vehicle parking.

“We don’t have enough space for everyone to park their personal vehicles (at the current operations building),” Wall told the city council. “They end up parking on the street to access the facility.”

Additionally, Wall said, the current space only has one restroom for female employees and the male restroom is “very small.”

“With 45 to 50 people trying to use these facilities … the personal spaces for crew are just not adequate,” Wall said. “And we have no meeting facilities.”

In the end, the city staff and TCF Architects report highlights two scenarios that would be able to help Camas’ growing public works department.

The first option, the “split scenario,” would expand the current operations building, adding a second story and providing covered storage space for equipment but would need a separate space to fully accommodate the department’s future personnel and equipment needs. Preliminary cost estimates on this option fall around $53.9 million, Wall said.

The second option would build a new public works operations building on a site that was at least 10 acres, but preferably 12 to 15 acres in size.

“This just assumes a generic piece of land with 10 usable acres,” Wall explained. “In our area, this could be tough when you take (into consideration) slopes and environmental concerns.”

The preliminary cost for the second option, including $9 million for the site acquisition, is $58.8 million.

In its report to the city council, TCF staff cautioned the study’s scope and cost information were “intended to provide the City with essential planning-level information for understanding present realities faced by (the public works department).”

“As internal discussions are held to consider the information presented … many additional questions are expected to arise,” the report states. “These questions will form the basis for follow-up work that will provide greater clarity and direction.”

Wall told the Council he didn’t expect the city officials to figure out how to fund a new public works operations center immediately, but that the city did need to consider its options sooner rather than later.

“We’re not figuring out how to fund it right now,” Wall said. “We know this is a years-long endeavor. We’ve been trying to temper the crews’ expectations. I told them, ‘Hey, sorry, but this probably won’t get completed in the time you’re here or the time I’m here, but we need to get started to set the city up for the future.”

On March 21, the city council approved an additional $112,000 contract with TCF Architecture to conduct the second phase of the public works operations facility site and space needs analysis. The consultants will now begin to take a deeper look into which option might be the best for the city’s needs, work with real estate professionals to evaluate up to five 10- to 15-acre sites that could accommodate a future public works operations building and possibly identify a preferred site. The current contract with TCF extends the consultant’s work through the end of 2022.

“We will try to get to the point (when we know) which scenario would make the most sense,” Wall said. “We want to identify preferred sites and I would love to lock up a site in the near term — not to have it right away, but … to say, ‘That is reserved for public works operations and facilities,’ so we can start the designing and other work that will be needed. That is years-long work.”

City Councilwoman Shannon Roberts told Wall after his presentation on March 7, that she thought the public works operations facility assessment was important.

“I think this is a much-needed project and I’m glad you’re moving ahead with this,” Roberts said.