Troutdale Council ponders fate of abandoned City Hall
Forgotten files gather dust. Silver scaffolds stand nearby, still draped in caution tape. Chunks of ceiling molder on the second-story floor.
The detritus inside Troutdale's former City Hall has sat — virtually untouched — since the building was hastily evacuated in 2011.
"It's a time capsule," admitted Facilities Superintendent Tim Seery during a rare tour through the cobwebs and dust on Monday, March 19. "Hopefully they can get something going."
Engineers say it would cost at least $2.5 million to restore the 6,600-square-foot structure at 104 S.E. Kibling St., which was initially abandoned because the roof rafters and trusses were overstressed. That's one of three options now available, including building a new 17,000-square-foot City Hall at a projected cost of $9.2 million — assuming elected leaders can come up with the cash and empty land.
Officials could create the same amount of total square footage by building a two-story addition on the current City Hall site, though the $8.1 million price tag wouldn't buy any new parking. City Manager Ray Young says municipalities generally need one square foot of office space per resident.
"The building has been vacant for seven years. It is literally rotting from the outside in and the inside out," Young told the City Council during a work session on Tuesday, March 6. "We can no longer put off a decision."
Council meetings are currently held at the Troutdale Community Police Center on Kendall Court, while municipal court and other services are handled in rented office space on the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Artifacts of that seven-year delay litter the chamber once occupied by the Troutdale City Council.
The scaffolds have shoved councilors' plush red swivel chairs and rows of audience seating toward the back wall, where a development sketch shows a new road passing through the Columbia Gorge Outlets mall. Books, binders, adding machines and even a few smooth jazz CDs await the return of Finance Director Erich Mueller. Copies of the city-published Troutdale Champion newsletter, dated November 2011, are stacked down the hall.
Council President Dave Ripma staked out a position against abandoning the building during the work session, noting that repair bill was only about $65,000 when the order to vacate was given.
"I frankly always viewed that decision as a pitch for a new City Hall. The mayor wanted one. Staff always wants one," said Ripma, who's served on the Council for more than 20 years.
Others have less fond memories of the cramped quarters, which suffered from water damage and a sinking foundation even during its historical heyday.
"Forty more years in a wood and stick-built building — just imagine the maintenance," marveled former court clerk Paula Goldie, who worked in the building for 35 years. "Just because you're putting lipstick on that pig does not mean it's going to maintain its character."
Completed in 1923, the Troutdale municipal building's second floor was used as a dance hall and community space before being renovated into the Council Chambers in 1977.
The cornerstones of the building were laid as early as 1910, though the city's first Council was soon distracted by a debate over whether dancing is sinful.
"At that time, all of the rest of the businesses in town had second-floor dance halls, and they didn't want the competition," commented Outlook columnist Sharon Nesbit, who has published a chronicle of the city. "Then they sued each other and lost all their money."
Local criminals were housed in a jail cell on the first floor, Nesbit noted, and a fire in 1948 also prompted discussions about selling the building.
At the work session, Councilor Zach Hudson said the building should be designated as a historic landmark even if it's sold to a private owner. Councilor Glenn White said he once dreamed of turning the site into a civic center with a public library and fire station. With that dream dead, he doesn't support building an opulent structure for public servants.
"I think it helps keep us in a tighter box," he said of the old building.
Mayor Casey Ryan and Councilors Larry Morgan and Randy Lauer were absent.