Falls City goes to work on community center



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The Falls City fire hall, at right, is currently in a state of flux. The trucks are kept in a nearby pole building. A new fire station and public meeting hall is in the city's plans.

Put this in a gray box

(The Falls City community will host a benefit spaghetti dinner, bingo and a raffle at 5 p.m., June 25 at 330 N. Main Street. All proceeds will go toward construction of the Fire Station/Community Center project.

For more information: Darla at City Hall, 503-787-3631.)

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(Craig byline)

FALLS CITY -- Mayor Darrin Fleener says the question has been among the most prevalent in his small town for almost a year now -- on the street and at city hall.

"What's happening with the community center?" folks ask.

"People have been looking for updates on it pretty regularly," Fleener said.

During the spring of 2004, city personnel and local volunteers demolished the front section of the fire station on Main Street. The plan was to build a larger fire station and hall, and a new facility that could serve as a public gathering place.

The hope was to have the structure finished by December. Unfortunately, construction costs exceeded the amount of money officials budgeted for the project.

The site where the old station stood still sits empty today.

That could have sapped the city's collective spirit, Fleener said. Instead it has galvanized it.

Officials and community members are in the midst of an aggressive effort to raise the more than $200,000 needed to complete the project, including applying for grants and scheduling bake sales, spaghetti dinners and other fundraisers.

"The idea that it's not going to be built, we're not even thinking about that," Fleener said.

"Between the private foundations that we've gone to for grants and the state being willing to help, we have every chance in the world to start construction this year."

Talk of building a new community center/fire hall first surfaced back in 2000, when city officials began work on a master plan for redevelopment of the city's downtown area.

Among the priorities listed was a major renovation and expansion of the 100-year-old Falls City fire station, which had limited space for vehicles and equipment, lacked a proper heating and cooling system and had no handicap accessibility, said Fire Chief Bob Young.

Officials has also explored building a new community center, a facility which was sorely needed in Falls City, Fleener said.

"We have no shared-community meeting space," Fleener said. "If we want to hold adult education classes or have a blood drive, the only place to do it is at the high school -- there are a lot of limitations on that."

Because of the cost of building the center as a stand-alone structure, officials proposed it as an add-on to the fire hall.

The city applied for and received $600,000 from the state's Community Development Block Grant program to pay for planning and construction of the facility, with about a third of the space dedicated to the community center.

City leaders had hoped to have the project finished by December of 2004, using grant funds alone. But that hit a snag after initial bids from contractors came in almost $300,000 over budget.

"They came back extremely high," Fleener said, noting that more than $100,000 had been used for planning and environmental remediation of the site.

"When it came down to it, we had $495,000 for construction," he said.

Officials have since reduced the size of the project by a third. New bids for the building total about $710,000.

City leaders have applied for several grants, and so far have received $25,000 from the Portland-based Collins Foundation.

A decision is pending on two other awards valued at a combined $150,000.

In the meantime, the community is attempting to raise at least $15,000 in local match funds to help secure those grants.

Fleener said it's not a question of if the center will be built, but when.

"We have no place for community artists to display their work, no place for musicians to come out and perform for citizens," he said. "This would fill a real gap that we have for cultural events, for public programs and community pride.

"I hope to see it as the focal point of the town."



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