By editorial board • 

County space-needs study big step in right direction

Back on March 2, 2002, almost exactly 19 years ago to the day, we lamented, “The county, too, feels a space squeeze. The courts need more room, and health and human resources programs are scattered.”

We concluded, “Whatever the challenges, now is the time for both city and county to get cost-effective, efficient facilities in place to handle coming decades of growth.”

The city has responded over the intervening years with a new police station, a new civic center and extensive park and transportation system improvements. Not content to rest on its laurels, it is currently laying plans for replacement of aging, deteriorating library, aquatic, community and senior center facilities, and plotting a downtown streetscape upgrade.

Meanwhile, it has persuaded the state to replace the old wooden span taking Third Street over the Yamhill River to connect up with the busy Highway 18 Bypass. And it is busy facilitating a host of major private sector development and redevelopment projects.

The county? Not so much.

Four years ago, that prompted us to renew our concern in an editorial titled, “County space needs demand serious look.”

Whether it was our urging or something else entirely, the county responded with a comprehensive facility needs analysis conducted by a consultant firm and reviewed by a task force. The findings were detailed on Tuesday’s front page, and they match our prescription to a T:

The county needs to quit buying up houses in historic downtown neighborhoods for conversion into offices for its burgeoning Health and Human Services Department. It would make much more sense, both fiscally and operationally, to develop a modern, high-efficiency office complex where these interrelated programs can be centrally housed — preferably one with adequate parking and transit access.

That doesn’t promise to prove either cheap or easy. Over the long haul, though, it promises to prove both cheaper and easier  than the piecemeal rehab of aging, high-maintenance properties built for an entirely different purpose and scattered all over the landscape.

It probably made sense back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the county’s needs and resources were much more modest. But it makes less and less sense as we move ever deeper into the 21st century.

One of the biggest challenges would be identifying and acquiring a close-in site capable of supporting a complex of sufficient size — 110,000 square feet, in the consultant’s estimation. To get an idea what that entails, Wal-Mart features 102,000 square feet of single-level space and Oregon Mutual Insurance headquarters 62,000 square feet of multiple-level space.

The site of the woefully obsolete and inefficient McMinnville Community Center, a 55,000-square-foot red-brick structure erected as an armory in 1924, would certainly be convenient. And the city is hoping to render it available by developing a replacement elsewhere in town.

But it has almost no parking of its own. It relies on street-side spaces and a city parking garage across the street.

The report also recommends the county expand its downtown courthouse by 30,000 square feet and renovate 10,000 square feet of adjacent jail space. Siting is not an issue there, but cost, efficiency, compatibility and functional integration would all need to be considered in such an endeavor.

The county is at an early stage here in addressing its growing long-term space needs. However, it has embarked on the journey in a sensible and thoughtful fashion, which represents a highly encouraging start in our book.


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