The Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center will once again be under construction next year as Knerr Construction builds offices for the Umatilla County Fair and improves the on-site RV park.
The Hermiston City Council chose the Hermiston-based construction firm Monday to manage both projects, using a bid-design-build process. The city promised to build office and storage space for the fair as part of an agreement forged last year when Umatilla County pulled out of EOTEC and gave full ownership to the city. The city also hopes that adding the needed utility hookups to the RV park will open up more revenue opportunities.
John Eckhardt of Knerr Construction told the city he felt “really confident” that the projects could be completed before the 2019 fair.
“I think it’s very doable,” he said.
City councilors said they hoped it was done sooner than the day before the fair, a reference to the completion of EOTEC before its inaugural 2017 fair. Knerr Construction oversaw the barns portion of EOTEC back then. City staff recommended Knerr over the two other firms that submitted proposals, citing Knerr’s local office, past experience with EOTEC and experience with the bid-design-build method.
During Monday’s meeting the city council also approved a joint facilities agreement with Hermiston School District. Larry Fetter, parks and recreation director, said the agreement formalizes many shared uses of city and district facilities that are already in place, such as city use of school gyms for its basketball programs.
However, Fetter said there were some adjustments, including the end of janitorial fees for using the school gyms.
“The power behind this agreement is that there is no exchange of fees,” he said.
Larry Usher, Hermiston School District’s athletic director, said the district is “very, very excited” about the new possibilities for partnerships opened up by the agreement. He pointed to the example of the new program that sent all Hermiston second-graders for a swimming and water safety lesson at the aquatic center last month.
“It’s unbelievable what it’s going to do for our kids,” he said. “... This program more than likely has saved a kid’s life.”
Nearly 400 students participated in the program and were handed a voucher for swim lessons for only $10 next summer. Pool manager Kasia Robbins said of all the district’s second graders, 84 percent were in the “high risk” category when assessed, meaning that if they fell into a swimming pool with no one around to pull them out they would not be expected to survive.
City councilor Doug Primmer said in his 35 years as a water rescue professional with law enforcement he has seen far too many drownings, and he can’t praise the new water safety program enough. He and other councilors asked city staff to look into what they could do to expand the program, possibly by opening the pool a little earlier in the spring and bringing another grade level through.
Before Monday’s regular city council meeting, the council held a work session that included a presentation from Hermiston Public Library director Mark Rose.
Rose said the library is working on some strategic planning, and the city council would likely see some funding requests during next year’s budget process.
He said the library is facing growth challenges as Hermiston’s population expands. The library has about 40,000 physical items for check-out, which is below the per capita amount recommended. There are also challenges with space.
“Just like you want a number of books per people in the community, you also want a number of seats, and we’re well below that,” he said.
Rose said he would like to consider moving the children’s section downstairs, which would keep adults from being bothered by noise from young children and help parents feel less worried that their child will be a disruption if they bring them to the library. It would also increase shelf space for more books and other materials.
Rose said he would also like to see the library’s hours expanded. Currently it is open 46 hours a week, but Rose said he would like to bring that number above 50 for starters, if he can get the budget for it.