The major work on the Fort Dalles Readiness Center is done and construction supervisor Greg Garske said the next few weeks will be spent on aesthetic features, such as painting walls and tiling stairways.
“We’re now 18 months without an injury and there are about 80 guys on the job so that’s a good thing,” he said of nearing the homestretch on the project with a perfect safety record.
Garske is the superintendent for Hoffman Construction, the Portland firm hired to build the 62,289-square-foot structure on 7.4 acres of the Columbia Gorge Community College campus.
Since the space at the east edge of the property will be shared by the Oregon National Guard and the college, Jim Austin, facility services director for the college, helped draft the plans. He said seeing the schematics become reality in the joint venture has been gratifying.
“I think it’s been a learning curve for all of us; there have been a million details to work out,” he said.
Although, at $28 million, the armory is not the most expensive ever built by the state, it is a pilot project for mixed civilian and military uses. The bottom floor of the building — 13,087 square feet — will be used solely by students and faculty of the college. That space includes two labs, two classrooms, a computer work area and a break area next to a massive fireplace and small kitchen.
Skylights that are self-dimming and glass on the entire north-facing side of the structure keep the bottom floor well lit. There is an elevator and a stairway between the first and second floors.
On the second level is a 10,000 square-foot assembly hall that can also serve as a drill floor for the Guard. A commercial-grade kitchen is also located on that floor, along with the offices for the three or four soldiers who work full-time at the armory and their commanding officers.
“It’s really starting to flesh out. It looks fabulous,” said Austin.
A Guard-only area is sited on the third floor and comprised of a 1,014-square-foot fitness center, locker rooms and other spaces to accommodate training needs. On the civilian side is a 1,640-square-foot conference room that can hold 60 people and be arranged in several configurations to accommodate the needs of the group.
An industrial shop of 5,000 square feet is also shared, providing 3,000 square feet of room for 12 student welding labs and a 2,000 square foot maintenance bay for Guard vehicles.
There are patios available on both the first and second floors and a sod roof is in place over the college rooms, which jut out a little farther in front of the building.
Lighting throughout the structure is from LED and compact fluorescent bulbs and much of it is powered by solar panels erected on the roof and at a nearby location. The goal of the military is to have the building produce as much energy on site as it uses and Austin said as more federal dollars become available, more panels will be added.
Garske said energy efficiency has also been boosted by decreasing the amount of heat escaping from the building and using a geothermal heat pump.
Austin said legal advisors for the college and Oregon Military Department are working out the final details on agreements governing rental of shared space and other matters related to combined uses.
About 150 soldiers will gather at the armory once each month to train and 1,200 yards of concrete was poured in the upper back parking lot, which will be used exclusively for Guard member personal vehicles, and those of the military. A large public parking lot is available at the front of the building, which has already been partially landscaped.
The assembly hall will be available for public use during the rest of the month and can be transformed into a conference center that can hold up to 1,000 people with break-out rooms. Austin said the walls are being fitted with fabric acoustic panels to eliminate echoes when large crowds gather.
He said the original plan was to have students start classes in the new facilities for winter term, which begins in January. However, adding the workforce training center to the armory delayed completion of the project by a few months.
Austin said it is now expected that students will begin using the new space for spring term, unless there is an unforeseen delay in the upcoming weeks.
He said the military department is planning a grand opening ceremony in March that will be well advertised and attended by top ranking commanders and both state and federal dignitaries, as well as local officials and community members.
It took 15 years to bring the plan described by the military as the “crown jewel” to fruition. Local government leaders, college administrators and both state and federal officials lobbied for years to get Congress to provide funding to replace the aging armory at Sixth and Webber streets that sits on county lands.
In 2012, the college was finally able to infuse $8 million in state funds into the readiness center after Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, and Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, convinced the Department of Community College and Workforce Development that about $20 million in federal funding could legally serve as a match for those dollars.