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"ODF moves into new solar Digs"

"ODF moves into new solar Digs"

Nicole Lane ODF Intern

By Sandra Gubel
Blue Mountain Eagle

>>click here for original article

JOHN DAY – After 61 years, the Oregon Department of Forestry facility in John Day was riddled with termites, had plumbing problems, and its concrete slab was broken and heaving. The furnace was on its last legs, and there were many safety concerns.

Last week, agency employees were more than pleased to move to new quarters on Patterson Bridge Road, where the new ODF building features bright and efficient working space, with much of its electrical use bolstered by solar panels.

“We’re very, very excited and fortunate to have these new facilities,” said Chris Cook, wildland fire suppression supervisor and the assistant to John Day Unit Forester Angie Johnson. “This is more than I ever expected.”

Johnson also was happy with the improvements.

“I can’t believe the number of safety features we have here,” she said. “It’s a really nice place. It will be here a long time.”

The administration office officially opened for business on Monday, March 28. The public is invited to an open house from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, April 21.

The 5,200-square-foot administration building features a large conference and training room that can be used by the community. It also provides training space that was lacking at the old facility, which was built in 1950.

Having used the U.S. Forest Service Supervisor’s building on many occasions for meetings and training, Johnson is excited the agencies are now neighbors. 

It should increase communication between the two entities, but ODF won’t need to use the federal facilities.

Johnson and Cook have separate offices in the new building, while other employees share space, separated by sound-absorbing cubicle wall structures. Maps and archives have a room, while records of investigations and evidence have their own space, each secure and in one location. In the old complex, items were stored throughout, both Cook and Johnson said.

“Now we have adequate space,” said Cook, who noted that the previous building had similar square footage, but organization was inefficient.

The former ODF compound had a pole building shop that was subsequently converted into office space. A residence and another shop building were also on site.

The building is ADA-accessible and features the required fire system with alarms.

The plans for the new building sparked some criticism early on because of the lack of a biomass-fueled heating system. Johnson said she understands that people were disappointed, but said the agency couldn’t obtain a grant for such an installation. 

“It would’ve been very costly,” she said.

However, the new building’s heating and cooling system is far more efficient than the old one. It also features motion-activated lighting, and the solar panels on the administration building collect energy, which can reverse the building’s meter.

Also on the new grounds is a 5,500-square-foot maintenance shop, fire supply cache and fire station for ODF’s crew of nearly 20 firefighters, most of whom are seasonal. 

The new shop facility is also vastly improved, said Johnson and Cook.

ODF should be able to maintain vehicles in the new three-bay shop, with a fire engine now kept ready to respond, year-round. In the previous one-bay shop, crews had to move vehicles around to do maintenance.

“We’ll be able to do more with our equipment now, rather than pay someone else to do it,” said Johnson.

In addition, the old building had no single space where 20 firefighters could meet, unless the vehicles were moved out of the shop, said Cook.

“This is much more efficient for us,” he said.

Firefighters also can say goodbye to the small closet that served as a break room, the single functioning toilet, and one small shower stall.

The new building offers a room with weights for mandatory physical conditioning, and a room for firefighters to do their paperwork and ready their fire gear. There are lockers, a small kitchen and break room, ADA-accessible restrooms for men and women, and two shower stalls for each gender.

The space will accommodate additional standby firefighters, who will have access to the indoor facilities while camping on the grounds. Before, the cramped grounds meant that additional firefighters had to camp at the Seventh Street Complex.

The new utility building has a large area to stow all firefighting equipment and supplies, which should enable personnel to gather items more efficiently, Cook said.

“It’s a huge improvement for us. We’ll know where things are, and the crews will be able to respond a lot quicker,” he said.

Another big plus is getting the compound out of a residential area. He said that mandatory testing of lights and sirens hasn’t always been neighborly. When crews took vehicles out through the neighborhoods, they had to worry about children, school buses and traffic at fair time.

“The traffic will be decreased, and our response time will increase, being close to the highway,” Cook said.

The agency’s budget has always been tight, he and Johnson said, and that includes maintenance money. Anticipating a new building would eventually be constructed, many projects were left undone, they said.

“We worked with a small budget, and kept our costs down wherever we could,” said Johnson.

To save money, almost all of the furniture from the former building is being moved to the new one. Shelving and benches from the old shop facility will also be moved and reconfigured, Cook said.

Some items – a covered outdoor equipment building, less asphalt paving, tile bathroom floors and interior wainscoating for the administration building – were eliminated to cut costs. 

The $2 million project was built with a combination of bond money and Go Oregon stimulus funds, said Johnson. Over 10 years, ODF will pay back between $12,000 and $15,000. The cost amounts to less than one cent per acre for landowners who are assessed by the ODF, she said.

As soon as the old facility is completely vacated, other state agencies will have first chance at it, Johnson said. If they don’t want it, the property will be listed “as is” on the open market. 

The top portion of the lot has been handed over to the City of John Day, which will use it to reconfigure the existing intersection, said Johnson.

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