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Fate of Gitchell building remains in limbo

The fate of the historic Waldron Drug/Gitchell building at the foot of Washington Street is still up in the air after The Dalles City Council directed staff Monday to prepare paperwork for its demolition or relocation by a citizen group.

Matthew Klebes, assistant to the city manager, was told to draft an agreement for a nonprofit to move the aging structure that would address liability, location and timeline. Concurrently, he is also preparing a detailed demolition cost estimate.

Both options are to be brought back to the council for review in 120 days.

Last fall, the city advertised for people or companies interested in either restoring the building for potential public or private use, or eliminating its liability, to submit a proposal.

Local archaeologist Eric Gleason submitted the sole proposal. He wants to work with a nonprofit to save the building, which was constructed in either 1859 or 1867.

Although he preferred renovations on site, Gleason said community members were also willing to move the building away from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, as requested by a city subcommittee that studied options.

Although there are no finances on hand to relocate or restore the building, Gleason told the council in January that citizens would partner with a nonprofit and then seek out grants and other funding sources.

At that time, staff was directed to find out if the city could allow a private entity to own a building that was located upon public land.

The council also wanted to know where the railroad stood on its potential use, given that part of the structure sits within its right-of-way.

Gene Parker, city attorney, told the council May 14 that a senior claims manager from the city’s insurance company advised that the building could be sold or turned over to a private entity.

However, any agreement would need to place responsibility for any mishap, including a potential collapse, with the new owner.

The railroad expressed significant concern to Julie Krueger, city manager, about any use of the building in its current location. Union Pacific officials told her the best options were to move the structure and nominal grant assistance for that plan might be available through the company’s Community Ties giving program.

The vacant structure is considered unstable enough that no one can enter it. This restriction stems from the fact that “the first-floor joists are not attached to the wall … several joist ends, in particular over the east entrance, have substantially deteriorated over time,” according to an excerpt from a 2009 structural evaluation.

Since that analysis was done by Peter Meijer Architect, PC, city officials have been concerned about potential liability because they have been warned that the building is structurally unsound.Preliminary costs to demolish the building have ranged from $35,000 to $55,000 and could be higher to ensure that debris does not end up on nearby tracks, according to a staff report submitted to the council by Klebes and Krueger.

About a year ago, Mayor Steve Lawrence pointed out that the city had spent $316,000 to maintain, reinforce and stabilize the building, which it purchased for $7,357 in 2002.

It would cost about $700,000 to fix the structure, but it still might be unusable because of the right-of-way issue, said Lawrence.

He said it made no sense for the city to expend more money, a stance also taken by Councilor Russ Brown on Monday.

He said the city had spent $1 million to purchase a swath of property along First Street, including the land under the Gitchell Building, specifically to accommodate an expansion of the wastewater treatment plant.

The existing clarifier for that operation was sited about 100 feet east of the building and, if it were left in place, access could not be provided through the plant or the Lewis & Clark Festival Park to the west.

Any further expansion of the plant to accommodate population growth would find the operation almost at the doorstep of the Gitchell building, said Brown.

“If that building were anyplace else, I’d be all for saving it. I honestly don’t see any way of moving it,” he said.

Brown thought demolition was likely to be the only reasonable option due to the condition of the building.

Councilor Tim McGlothlin favored preserving the building, whether on site or relocated, because of its historic value.

The Oregon Inventory of Historic Properties and the National Register noted that the structure has been used as a Waldron Drug store, a post office, Masonic Lodge, apartments, newspaper office, feed store and paint store, among others.

“I would like to see it turned into a viable use,” said McGlothlin.

Councilor Taner Elliott said Brown and McGlothlin had both expressed valid viewpoints.

Elliott seconded the motion made by Brown to have Klebes and Krueger craft an agreement for Gleason to take over the building, with the proviso that it included a timeline for getting the building moved.

They also wanted to see what demolition would actually cost in case the council decided to go that direction later this year.

“It’s just sitting there deteriorating so we have to do something,” said Lawrence.


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