Twisp Civic Building will also be valley-wide emergency response center
By Ann McCreary
Twisp will receive $500,000 in state funding to launch a new “Twisp Civic Building” project that will create a new facility to house town offices and serve as an emergency response center for the entire Methow Valley.
The half-million dollar allocation was included in the recently approved state capital budget through a request sponsored by State Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee.
Twisp officials have known for five years that the 65-year-old Town Hall building on Glover Street is plagued with structural and functional deficiencies, including cracked walls, inadequate fire and security features, poor ventilation and water damage.
It wasn’t until the Carlton Complex Fire roared through the valley last summer, knocking out power and communications, that town officials realized how inadequate the Town Hall facility is to meet the community’s needs during a disaster.
The building, which had no generator to provide back-up power, was closed during much of the disaster. Mayor Soo Ing-Moody worked out of her home during the disaster and the town’s police officers “did most of their work in their vehicles … we couldn’t use the building for even charging radios,” Ing-Moody said.
“During a time of crisis the inability of our municipal facility to operate, provide communication and function as an emergency incident command center was a significant detriment to the town’s ability to effectively respond,” she said.
“Not only do we need to be able to manage an emergency with our own staff, but we need to manage public communication. Our community needed information that was not only specific to the fires but needed information about road closures, evacuation, and information about loved ones. All of that was hampered by not having a facility that could provide centralized information,” Ing-Moody said.
Support from sheriff
“As the wildfire ripped through the Methow Valley, the lack of a self-sustained and functional communication facility for law enforcement and emergency incident command compounded the problems posed by the fire itself,” said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers in a letter of support for the Twisp Civic Building project.
“Issues of a non-functioning facility, impaired communications systems, and lack of public meeting space meant emergency personnel did not have a centralized location within the community to coordinate logistics for effective response and information sharing,” Rogers said.
The lack of an adequate emergency management center in the Methow Valley “is particularly problematic since the natural geography of the valley is narrow and road closures are not uncommon during emergency incidents,” the sheriff said.
“Not only are wildfires a potential threat in the summer, but mudslides … continue to be a problem, while snow and ice storms in the winter may also cut off the valley from outside emergency assistance,” Rogers said.
The structural problems in the Town Hall building came to light in 2011 when the roof began leaking. Efforts to fix the roof led to the discovery of numerous other issues, including hollow unreinforced perimeter walls that appear to be moving off the building foundation.
The town had previously sought, but not received, state funding to remodel Town Hall. After last summer’s fire, however, town officials realized that they needed more than administrative space.
“We’ve learned some lessons through this experience about how a facility could better function in an emergency,” Ing-Moody said.
This year’s budget request from Condotta sought state funding for a Town Civic Building that would not only provide a municipal building for Twisp but also a center for “future emergency management for the larger Methow Valley community.”
Condotta requested $2.7 million, the amount proposed for design and construction of the new facility. The $500,000 approved by the Legislature is enough to fund planning with additional money left over to move the project forward, Ing-Moody said. The appropriation needs to be spent within two years.
“I’m in the process of talking with legislators to see how we could use these funds to help leverage additional funds, maybe through the federal government,” Ing-Moody said.
More money in future
“This is just the first installment for Twisp. There will have to be additional money,” said Condotta. He said he expects to request future legislative allocations and will work with the mayor to find other funding sources to complete the project.
“Really, it’s the small towns that need the help right now,” Condotta said.
The Civic Building would be at the same location as Town Hall, which would be demolished to make way for the new building, Ing-Moody said. A committee that was created several years ago to study Twisp’s Town Hall issues determined it would be less expensive to demolish the old building than remodel it, she said.
According to preliminary plans, the new facility will be equipped to serve as an Incident Command Center and public meeting space. It will have back-up power for communications during emergencies; provide emergency shelter for critical functions; improve safety features for council meetings and municipal court hearings; provide office and work space for town and police staff; and provide space to archive municipal records.
Plans call for a new public works shop to be constructed at the town’s sewer plant property. That new shop will house public works vehicles that are currently parked in a garage in the Town Hall building, separated from the office area by a wall that allows exhaust fumes to enter the office area.
Ing-Moody had explored numerous possible funding sources — including state and federal programs and private loans — to correct the problems in Town Hall.
“Despite years of effort … we had come up empty — falling through the cracks when it comes to any eligibility for established state funding programs, whose access is especially important for small communities with limited financial capacity,” Ing-Moody said.
She credited Condotta for advocating for Twisp and securing the funds to initiate the project.
“Without Condotta’s persistent representation and support, our Twisp Civic Building project request would have been beyond our reach. I believe that it was his ranking of our project as his No.1 legislative request this budget session, that got us the initial funding we need to at least begin this process,” Ing-Moody said.
She said the town would begin planning the project quickly. “I’m ready to move on this right away. We’re finally taking steps to solve this problem.”