The fate of the historic Waldron/Gitchell building is still up in the air, with The Dalles City Council deciding Union Pacific should be consulted before a decision is made on a proposal from a private party to stabilize, restore and reuse it in place.
Julie Krueger, city manager, told the council Jan. 22 that 8 feet of the interior space lies within the railroad’s right of way. She said the city needed to find out if UP would allow use of that space before further consideration was given to preservation of the building constructed in 1865.
Councilor Darcy Curtiss-Long said she would like to see the building restored on the site because that would be the least expensive option. She said allowing a nonprofit organization to do the work would save the city money.
In the 60s or 70s, the railroad track moved, putting the structure in the Lewis & Clark Festival Park within the railroad’s 15-foot right of way.
Krueger also expressed concern a private entity being given ownership of the building when it sits on public property.
City Attorney Gene Parker questions if the city can effectively transfer its risk of liability associated with conditions existing in the building to another entity, even if it is moved.
Councilor Russ Brown said any expansion of the wastewater treatment plant would put the new clarifier right next to the building, which would not be compatible with other uses. “I think we need a lot more questions answered before I’d be willing to make a decision,” he said.
Councilor Taner Elliott asked how parking would be made available for a future business and its customers. The elected body discussed whether access could be provided through Festival Park or the nearby wastewater treatment plant, both public properties.
At issue was the proposal by local archaeologist Eric Gleason to work with a nonprofit group to renovate the building.
Although he preferred to do that on site, Gleason also said community members were open to having the building moved away from the tracks, as requested by a city subcommittee that studied options.
“We came up with this proposal because the building really warrants this kind of attention,” he said. “It’s been part of the community for going on 150 years.”
He said the building serves as a historic “billboard” next to the freeway, a key reason to leave it in place. He said the importance of the structure to the fabric of the community was expressed with the design of its façade being built into the Union Street underpass.
“Option one is really the best option,” said Gleason. “It’s been a part of our community and it deserves to be a part of our community.” Mayor Steve Lawrence told Gleason that it was likely the railroad would discourage improvements to the building out of safety concerns.
Resident Carolyn Wood, a local historian and former city councilor, said the railroad had chosen to move toward the Gitchell building and had never before expressed a problem with its presence.
“My viewpoint at that time was let it be, preserve it and it would probably serve the community for another 50 years,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be moved.”
If relocating the building is the only choice, Gleason would like to see it moved 20 feet to the north, a procedure that would cost an estimated $125,000. The other suggested site is the south side of East First Street, to an empty lot next to the Baldwin Saloon.
That move, Gleason said, would cost significantly more than $125,000 but would solve any problems with the railroad.
“Those options were really seen as a step- by-step progression,” he said.
The city’s work group has recommended the move to First Street.
Whether moved or left in place, city officials are concerned about a structural evaluation of the Gitchell building in 2009 that noted its instability in some areas.
The report by KPFF Consulting Engineers recommended a plethora of actions to meet basic safety standards, including seismic upgrades, wall and joint repair, addressing drainage issues, and removing an unusable mezzanine level.
The report estimated all the necessary repairs would cost $780,000.
Many of the reported concerns have been addressed since the report came out, said Gleason, including roof and structure stabilization and interior remodel work.
Wood said if seismic upgrades were a concern of the council, there were other structures in the downtown corridor that would have more problems than the Gitchell building if a major earthquake were to occur.
Gleason’s proposal was the only one received by the city after it advertised for ideas last fall.
The subcommittee noted when examining Gleason’s submission that, while he had ample experience with preservation and restoration of historic structures, he lacked direct experience with the relocation of a building.
Plus, there is no finances in hand at this time to do the work, although potential small grants have been identified.
Gleason told the council last week that the nonprofit would seek capital for the work, although he felt the structure was more sound than reported.
“It’s really in pretty good shape,” he said. “I truly intend to put a lot of sweat equity into it with a community group.”
He asked that the city enter into an agreement that specified the expectations, requirements, timeline and responsibilities of each party if ownership of the building was transferred.
If the city decides to reject all options and proceed with demolition, preliminary cost estimates have ranged from $35,000 to $55,000 based on industry demolition cost per foot ranges and other factors.