Wallowa Resources moves to new/old digs

<I>Elane Dickenson/Chieftain</I><BR>Empty patient rooms in the former Wallowa Memorial Hospital building - abandoned when the hospital moved three years ago - await occupancy by Wallowa Resources.

The deal is finally done and Wallowa Resources officially has a new home.

Last week Wallowa County Health District and Wallowa Resources signed the final papers transferring ownership of the empty 1950 hospital building to the nonprofit organization. The deed transfer was recorded with the Wallowa County Clerk's Office Monday, May 17.

" We're hoping to move in the first of June," said Nils Christoffersen, executive director of Wallowa Resources. "We're looking forward to it."

He noted that his organization has outgrown its space on North Street in Enterprise, with the space shortage especially acute since Department of Motor Vehicles moved into the bottom half of their long-time home.

The nonprofit, which has nine fulltime employees, plans to use the wing of old patient rooms off the main lobby of the former hospital for offices. Christoffersen said that getting the rooms ready for phone lines and computer connections must be completed before the move.

Several offices are already leased in the basement, and Wallowa Resources now hopes to rent much more office space on the main floor.

Under the terms of the transfer agreement, the health district - which moved into its new hospital building in March 2007 - will lease part of the building to continue to house the Wallowa Valley Care Center. The nursing home takes up about one-third of the 60,000 square foot structure.

The health care district will be paying $10,000 a month - approximately what it has been paying to heat the whole building , Harman said. Savings to the district will come when other offices are rented out, when the district's rent will be reduced proportionately, as well as other costs.

"They've taken a big responsibility off our shoulders. It's a good building, well-maintained, but there are things that will go wrong, and that's now their responsibility," Harman said.

However, because the health care district's maintenance staff is familiar with all the idiosyncrasies of the old building, the district has agreed to supply maintenance support and training for the first year of Wallowa Resources ownership.

"It's like going through a divorce and still sharing responsibility. We have some mutual responsibility, even though we are separate entities," Harman said.

He noted, however, that the board is considering building a new structure for the nursing home, and the mutual responsibility would end if that occurs. The present lease agreement with Wallowa Resources will end Dec. 31, 2011, and then will be renewable on a year-to-year basis.

The transfer has been in the works for many months.

Originally, the health care district hoped to find a health-related use for the structure. Wallowa County Center for Wellness investigated it for use as an Alzheimer's care center, but eventually decided against using the old building.

Wallowa Resources looked at it once, also deciding against it, but a year ago checked into the possibility of renting basement space. At that time, the issue of taking over the whole building came up again, and eventually lead to a decision to accept the district's offer to give them the old hospital.

"It's taken a lot longer than we thought," Christoffersen said.

One delay was tracking down three couples - or their heirs - who donated the land on which the hospital was built in 1948. There was a deed restriction that the land be used only as a hospital, which made title insurance problematical.

Two donors - Wilfred Daggett and Barbara Daggett Tippett -are still alive and signed off to allow the ownership change, while the district filed a court suit against the unknown heirs of the late A.B. and Louise Miller and Kimble and Carol Edgmand to clear up the deed problem. The issue was resolved in April.

Another necessary change was the building of a new firewall from attic to roof, to complete the separation of the old hospital space from the care center. It was inspected and approved by the Oregon Fire Marshal's office earlier this month.

Office space has already been rented to three tenants, Sun Storage, Renewable Energy Solutions and Renewable Energy Constructors, with others, including Energy Trust of Oregon and a law firm out of Portland - already lined up to rent space.

"Recently we were notified by the Department of Energy of a grant to develop a business plan to use woody biomass for heating," Christoffersen said. The goal would be to reduce the high cost of heating the building.

Christoffersen said that one good thing about the building will be the ability to house numerous agencies and businesses focused on renewable energy and economic development under one roof.

"This gives us the opportunity to generate some real benefit out of this community building, to create an opportunity for improved cooperation," he said.

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