THE FORT DALLES Readiness Center will loom tall above Scenic Drive with expansive views of the Columbia Gorge, as this rendering shows. The center is due for completion early next year on the Columbia Gorge Community College campus in The Dalles.
It’s been a long haul for proponents of the Fort Dalles Readiness Center.
Former Mayor and National Guard armory commander Les Cochenour has been peddling the idea since the late 1990s, working to persuade community, military and political leaders to support the project. Support it they did, but not always at the same time and not always financially.
Cochenour was on hand Thursday to see the new, almost 63,000-square-foot facility dedicated with true military flare. Facing the massive wall of windows in the drill hall, the audience was deprived of the glorious beauty of a spring afternoon at the eastern mouth of the Columbia Gorge, but threatening storm clouds provided another kind of drama, in some more in keeping with the facility’s ultimate purpose.
As U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said, this new facility is at the forefront of readiness for modern warfare.
It’s a far cry from the humble armory that still sits at Sixth and Webber streets, little more than a concrete vehicle warehouse and drill floor.
From a National Guard standpoint, this facility will include state-of-the-art virtual training facilities, dedicated fitness facilities, more robust storage for the large amount of equipment that today’s soldiers require in active duty — and a drill floor view that will be the envy of the 3,300 other readiness centers across the country.
Readiness has another focus, too. National Guard centers are also meant to train and equip citizen soldiers for rapid response in the event of local disaster or disturbance.
Most often they are called on to respond during natural disasters like floods and fires, but they’ve also stood ready for duty in the event of human conflicts, like those of the Rajneesh years.
The Fort Dalles Readiness Center’s view has another purpose, of course. The 1,000-seat space is meant to serve as conference and event space for lease.
Community leaders hope the large venue will draw people from around the region — and perhaps the country — to see The Dalles and what it has to offer, and perhaps invest or at least spend a few dollars during their stay here.
The final role of this multi-purpose facility is to provide educational space for Columbia Gorge Community College.
Much of the time, the drill floor/event space will serve as a lecture hall for large classes. And the college’s presence on the lower level means Renewable Energy Technology classes that had been shoehorned into whatever available space they could find, now finally have adequate facilities.
The facility was built in partnership between the military and the college, with funding from state and federal dollars. That partnership made possible the beautiful “lantern on the hill,” as Dr. Frank Toda, college president, is fond of calling it.
A lot of hopes and dreams for the future are riding on this one facility. How it will deliver that future is yet to be seen.
But no one can say it’s not ready for whatever the future holds.