The tale of project development and construction of Centralia College East is the story of a community's vision coming to fruition through the cooperation of dozens of organizations and individuals.
In August, 1997, Centralia College's outreach program in Morton, Washington, moved from the home that we had had in Morton High School since 1983 to a building of our own. East County Center became Centralia College East. State funds were never available for this project. However, after years of encouragement from the community advisory committee and the center's students, faculty and staff plus a September, 1994, feasibility study funded by college assessment committee, the college administration became committed to finding a better way to serve the folks of eastern Lewis County. With the help of the following partnerships and linkages with Centralia College, this commitment turned into the reality of an active new college facility in Morton: Centralia College Foundation, USDA Forest Service, Altrusa Club International Chehalis/Centralia, Morton School District, City of Morton, Lewis County Commissioners, Washington Community Economic Revitalization Team (WA-CERT), Security State Bank, Tacoma City Light, Andrew Noel Construction, Eight other corporate and foundation donors, Fifty-three community organizations and individuals who donated either their time or money to the Centralia College East project.
Here's the tale. It was a dark and stormy night. . . .
The Preapplication: - Top
September, 1994, Barbara Hollenbeck, community liaison for the Randle Ranger District and member of the Centralia College East County Center community advisory committee, suggested that Centralia College consider making a preapplication to WA-CERT for federal assistance to construct long-needed facility in Morton. Lewis County, its eastern part in particular, had been heavily impacted by the federal forest plan limiting harvest on Forest Service lands. Therefore, it was and still is, a region in need of retraining and economic revitalization. College President, Henry P. Kirk, invited the Executive Director of the Centralia College Foundation, Kathleen Thornton, to pursue the idea. Thornton, in collaboration with April Doolittle, director of East County Center, developed and submitted to the Lewis County Commissioners a preapplication for the Centralia College East project. In the preapplication they requested the opportunity to apply for a USDA Rural Community Development Grant through the USDA Forest Service and WA-CERT for $250,000 with a $62,500 match.
December, 1994, the Lewis County Commissioners prioritized all the projects submitted to them, ranking Centralia College East third. The top three projects were sent on to WA-CERT.
The Land: - Top
If Centralia College were to have a new building, we needed land to put it on. The feasibility study had identified and rated several potentially usable pieces of property in and around Morton. Due to the cost of those pieces, we realized that the only viable alternative was a partnership with the Morton School District. The college and the district had had a long-standing partnership since East County Center began in 1983. The superintendent invited us, the college, to make a proposal to the school board.
Once the preapplication was submitted by the county commissioners, the need to identify a potential building site became pressing. Through numerous informal meetings with the school board chair and the district superintendent, Doolittle was able to identify three alternative sites. Though both men were very supportive of the idea of a college campus next door to the junior high and high school, they were at odds on many other issues and had difficult political waters to navigate. Members of the current board had recently been elected on an anti-district administration platform. Recent school board meetings had been (and continued to be for the next year and a half) well attended and very contentious. Nevertheless, February, 1995, Doolittle, Kirk, Steve Ward, Dean of Administration, attended the public school board meeting, presented the request for a transfer of land from the school district to the college, outlining benefits and offering several alternative sites. The response was quietly supportive.
Several school board meetings and dozens of individual meetings later the board settled on a site and a quid pro quo agreement was hammered out.
In order for the transfer to occur a public hearing was required.
This took place at a school board meeting in February, 1996. Doolittle, Kirk,
Ward, Kathy Simonis, Centralia College Trustee, and East County Center alumni
students all made brief presentations focusing on the need for and potential benefits of the project for the community as well as the district. The only negative comment came from William Tully. Mr. Tully had been a school board member during the 1950's and objected, not to the project, but to the site chosen by the board because of its poor drainage. Doolittle subsequently met with Tully several times, exploring alternative sites and considering drainage solutions.
May, 1996, four district superintendents later and knowing that WA-CERT had approved our preapplication for construction dollars, the Morton School Board made the final decision to permanently partner with Centralia College, accepting the quid pro quo agreement and transferring .9 of an acre until such time as the college no longer used the property for educational purposes.
The Grant: - Top
For more than a year the preapplication languished with WA-CERT. A fact-finding team did visit Centralia College. Doolittle, Thornton, and Hollenbeck kept in contact. There was a sense of the project being too grand. "Perhaps you should just apply for a planning grant?" While the suggestion was tempting since no funds were allocated for planning, Thornton and Doolittle knew that planning money wouldn't get the building built. Since over twelve months had passed, the project fell off the county commissioners list of priority projects. Thornton made the necessary contacts with the commissioners for the project to be reinstated. Whew.
In late February, 1996, WA-CERT accepted the preapplication
and referred it to the USDA Forest Service Rural Community Development Grant
program. Doolittle and Thornton then worked closely with their new partners
Forest Service to write the grant application and finalize the required supporting documents. Those documents included the not-yet-in-place agreement with the school district, the not-yet-completed building plans, the budget (Where was the match coming from, anyway?), and the yet-to-be-approved-by-the-City environmental assessment required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
June 30, 1996, the Centralia College Foundation, submitted the completed grant application. On July 14 the Forest Service awarded the Foundation the $250,000 grant for the construction of Centralia College East.
Environmental Assessment: - Top
Several potential environmental roadblocks presented themselves. We hoped to build a building within five feet of the high school track. We often walked through four inch deep puddles when we visited the site. Our hoped for parking area would need to cover field and track drainage. The access driveway would need to cross a major City drainage ditch. Tully warned us of the poor drainage. Perhaps most daunting, the City was faced with a lawsuit if they hooked us up to their sewer system. Cracked sewer lines had caused sewage back-ups in that corner of town February, 1995, so the City had placed a moratorium on further hook-ups until the lines were repaired - a job the city had no money to do. Yet, we had only this hundred foot wide strip of land to work with. Yes, an environmental assessment was clearly in order.
The City was supportive. They became working partners in this project. The public works superintendent proposed culvert sizes for crossing the drainage ditch. He provided general specifications for our sewer lift station which would be needed once they could hook up. They shared their information about flood zones and wetlands. Our piece, though on the periphery, wasn't classified as either.
Apparently, usually expensive consultants or else specialize state employees determine wetland characteristics and mitigation. Since this project was functioning without planning funds, Doolittle contacted the State Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers and learned how to do SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) Checklist.
Doolittle went to the City Council early in the planning phase to assure support for the project and returned several times thereafter. A key Council meeting was in May, 1996: the City approved the SEPA Checklist. The checklist identified several options for dealing with a temporary lack of a sewer hook-up. The Council essentially agreed at that point that should the college reach the stage of asking for a building permit, that the potential of no hook-up would not impede approval of the permit. Sani-cans could suffice for a while.
The City also readily granted easements for utilities and driveways.
From the Plans to the Bid:
The Centralia College Foundation could not apply for a grant to build a building without a set of plans. However, prior to receipt of the grant there were essentially no funds to pay the $12,000 to $20,000 requested by an architect. What to do?
Since the college administration suspected that construction of a modular building would be the least expensive alternative, Doolittle negotiated with Modern Building Systems, a modular design and construction firm. Design engineer Jim Stannard understood the foundation's financial constraints. He proposed a two phase design process:
Phase I: - Top
for $2,500 he would develop an initial floor plan, site plan, and proposed cost analysis. These would enable us to submit a preliminary budget as part our grant application and to attach a proposed set of plans. The plans were also crucial for working with the school district as we requested land on which to build. Phase II after the grant was awarded: for another $2,500 he would finalize the drawings and develop specifications for the bid process.
Stannard's proposal sounded like a good deal. However, in the spring of 1995 we didn't have the $2,500 to get this show on the road.
July, 1995, one year before the Forest Service grant was awarded, Altrusa Club International, Chehalis/Centralia gifted $2,500 to the foundation to be used for Phase I of the design process. This gift enabled the Centralia College East project to move forward. The critical partnership between the foundation and Altrusa was based in personal ties. At the time, Linda Lee was a part-time office assistant and current student, nearing graduation, at East County Center; her coursework was funded by timber retraining funds. Lee's mom, who had visited East County Center as well as heard many tales of the crowded conditions, was an officer in Altrusa Club International, Chehalis/Centralia. Thornton was an active member in the chapter as well. The search was short as the chapter looked for a project to support that could have far-reaching impact. The Altrusans got a hundred-fold return on their money: the $2,500 gift enabled the receipt of a $250,000 grant.
Once the grant was awarded, Phase II could begin. However,
the design engineer was stymied by lack of a current survey designating the
boundaries of the .9 acre. The $324,000 budget submitted with the grant had
not anticipated survey costs. Needing survey work donated, Doolittle talked
with Kevin Schinnell. Schinnell had earlier donated his time to devise the property description used in the land transfer from the school district. His employers, Butler and Zenkner Land Surveyors, agreed to donate the survey of the property. This agreement created the first key partnership with an area business. With the help of a Centralia College Civil Engineering Technology student and his own donated labor, Schinnell completed the survey in December, 1996.
January, 1997, plans and specifications were submitted to the foundation by Stannard. Unfortunately, we got what we paid for. The boiler-plate specifications were short on information and contained many inaccuracies. Centralia College staff (Doolittle, Bonnie Myer from Purchasing, Gil Elder and Bill Schoelkopf from Buildings and Grounds all fully aware that none were architects or engineers) worked intensively to revise the specs and plans for the bid process and prepare the other bid documents. The package was designed to solicit bids for a modular structure as well as for a "stick-built" structure.
A bidders' meeting in late January pointed out more inadequacies in the specs. Bidders required engineered site specifications, such as accurate elevations, another unanticipated-in-the-budget need. Bidder Andy Noel suggested Centralia College graduate and retired engineer Jim Thode. Another critical partnership was formed. Thode agreed to work on the project, donating all of his time.
Once the engineer's specifications were received, bidders submitted their bids. In March, 1997, the contract was awarded to Andrew Noel Construction, Inc.
The Match: - Top
The story of the match is really the listing of many of the partnerships that joined together to create Centralia College East.
The Forest Service grant required a match of $62,500. However, by the time the bid was awarded, we were looking at a $400,000 project a match of $150,000. We had partnered with Altrusa, then the school district for the land transfer valued at $15,000. The Butler and Zenkner and the Jim Thode partnerships totaled nearly $4,000.
We had a very long way to go. The Centralia College Foundation does fund raising best and did. A local committee was formed as an off-shoot of the East County Center community advisory committee. Working with Doolittle and Thornton, committee members blanketed the community with personalized fund raising letters. The Morton newspaper, The East County Journal, featured the building project and regularly ran an ad identifying contributors and the total amount raised to date. Thornton and President Kirk met with John Alexander, the president of Security State Bank. Alexander understood the critical need for the Centralia College East facility and liked the idea of setting an example for other businesses to follow. He partnered with the foundation, committing $15,000 to the project.
Following Security State Bank, Key Bank donated $2,000, the Ben Cheney Foundation contributed $15,000, and dozens of individuals, organizations, and businesses including the timber companies Menasha and Champion added their smaller contributions.
Tacoma City Light owns and operates two dams in eastern Lewis County and wishes to be a visibly active member of that community. After a spring, 1997, visit from Kirk, Doolittle, and foundation board member Rose Bowman, the utility joined the partnership. Tacoma City Light invested $15,000 in the project, contributed an oak reception counter and a computer, and sponsored a photography competition with the winning photos to be framed and hung in the now-designated Tacoma City Light Computer Lab.
Parts of the college community also chose to join in the partnership that spring. The Centralia College East project was happening; the bid had been awarded and construction had started, but more financial support was needed. The East County Center students requested special funds from their Associated Students of Centralia College (ASCC) government to fund the construction of the student lounge in the new facility. ASCC responded with $20,050. The Centralia College Foundation Board of Directors allocated $15,000 from the Walter and Helen Hanke estate. A strategic action plan had been submitted to the college's Budget Review and Planning Committee. The committee viewed Centralia College East as clearly part of the overall strategic plan for the college and, therefore, designated $15,000 to help with the project.
By June, 1997, the minimum required match had been more than met but the building was not paid for yet.
The Construction: - Top
May, 1997, atop hard-packed fill, we held the Ground-breaking Ceremony, an opportunity for our partners to be recognized and thanked. The Mayor of the City of Morton publicly expressed the support of the City. John Alexander from Security state Bank was recognized. The Forest Service was represented by Harry Cody, Ranger of the Randle Ranger District. Foundation board member Wisten Aldrich acknowledged the large involvement from the Centralia College Foundation. Kathy Simonis represented the college board of trustees and Dr. Kirk the administration. Though the day had been grim and rainy, the sun broke through the clouds and shown on the fifteen minute ceremony. Participants were celebratory. Through the combination of the many partnerships, Centralia College East was destined to become a reality.
Andrew Noel Construction, Inc. was awarded the bid for $364,000. The building was to be "stick-built", a less expensive and more appealing alternative than modular construction. Noel, a Morton contractor who knew of the community's need for the facility, became a major partner in the project. Noel help us modify our design to save costs. The site needed over 2,500 yards of fill. He donated part of that and incorporated the rest into his bid for less than half its cost. We worked together with his crew to clarify design issues and avoid all but three change orders. He later sent us two loads of bark for landscaping. The Noel crew worked efficiently. By the first part of August, 1997, the building was nearly complete.
Mid-August, East County Center in Morton High School was vacated, and the staff (Jan Zenk, Stacey Vanderlip, Tammy Armstrong, and Trish Norton) moved out the back door and into the new facility, Centralia College East. A new, though unlikely, partner was found to help with the move, Morton Athletic Association. Members of this community-based organization volunteered their time. Receiving a substantial savings over the cost of a commercial mover, the college then paid the organization for the services. Those dollars in turn were used to support community youth athletic activities. Later in the fall, Morton Athletic Association also helped us install parking bumpers and spread thirty-five yards of compost for landscaping.
The City sewer repair project had run into a funding roadblock. As agreed, the City allowed us to move into the new facility without a sewer connection. Sani-cans, functional but much maligned by their users, were installed in the parking lot. Classes started September 22, 1997. Sewer repair finally started. By mid-October, the hook-up was complete. Toilets flushed, faucets ran, and students and staff celebrated.
By September the final project price-tag was $428,000. The balanced still to be raised was $70,000. Centralia College Foundation board determined that this project was thoroughly consistent with their mission; therefore, the foundation would cover the balance. As a result of the foundation's $85,000 investment plus their being the key organization behind the Centralia College East project, the facility is duly named The Walter and Helen Hanke Instructional Building.
The bare building on top on a mound of fill needed landscaping. New partnerships formed. With his partner Tara Johnson, Max West, a local contractor, donated and delivered 1,500 yards of topsoil. This was subsequently spread by volunteers. Local nurseries, Aldrich Berry Farm, Greenworld and Raintree Nursery, donated plants and offered the opportunity to purchase more plants wholesale through them. The City provided compost. Volunteers, including the Master Gardeners, will do the planting this spring, 1998.
The Dedication: - Top
December 6, 1997, the ribbon was cut and Centralia College East was dedicated during a public open house. Phil Dodd from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, had been the grant administrator and attended as the representative the USDA Forest Service.
In his address to the 150 or so folks assembled, he stated, "Centralia College East is a model of the kinds of partnerships that the Forest service strives to have in the community." Centralia College concurs. This project exemplifies the kinds of partnerships that we strive to have in the community. Centralia College East exists today because of those partnerships.
Updated: February 9, 2017