By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski
HERMISTON The old Good Shepherd Hospital has sat vacant since the new hospital was built in 1984, a haven for vandals and transients.
The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners is hoping to turn what has become an eyesore in Hermiston into usable land for the Umatilla County Fairgrounds.
According to Commissioner Larry Givens, the 15-month option-to-purchase agreement the commissioners have entered into with owner Marjory Peterson is a good deal for the county it gives the commissioners time to broker a deal with either loans, grants, the fair moving fund or a bond measure to purchase the 3.54-acre property located on the corner of Orchard Avenue and 7th Street.
"We haven't totally talked about it," Givens said regarding what the county's plans are for the property. "Expanding and having room for parking or for a facility structure" are just a few of the ideas floating around the courthouse.
An assessment needs to be completed on the property before a decision is made, says Givens. The 15 months is to give the county adequate time to do a land-use feasibility study and planning work.
Finding additional property to expand the fairgrounds was brought up by the Capital Improvement Needs Committee. The committee was looking at ways to improve the fairgrounds from expansion to ADA requirements.
The property, according to the county, is a good fit for both parties.
"Mrs. Peterson hopes that the property will be put to a beneficial use that everyone can support," according to a county press release last week. "The county has long needed additional space so that it can implement a business plan that will be suitable for the location."
The county has applied for a grant to build a new exposition center on current fairgrounds property. Givens says the grant has been earmarked at the federal level but the county is waiting for the "check in hand" before saying it is a done deal. The grant would not be able to be applied to the hospital property as it is specifically for an exposition center.
Givens says the county wants to strike "while the iron's hot but be cautious at the same time."
"The Petersons approached us," Givens said. "The opportunity to pick up the property was there."
In response to questions about whether or not the school district was interested in the old hospital grounds, Fred Maiocco, Hermiston School superintendent says the Good Shepherd property was not something the district had looked at for expansion of West Park Elementary.
When asked if he thought the voters of Umatilla County would be willing to pass a levy to purchase the property, Givens replied that everyone uses the fairgrounds, not just Hermiston people.
"The Umatilla County Fairgrounds has been just that the Umatilla County Fairgrounds," Givens said. "A lot of the rural folks participate (in the fair). It still has a tremendous amount of support throughout the county."
Jim Barrow, the county's director of administrative services, is now in charge of taking the next steps in the process of possibly securing the property.
"The first priority," said Barrow, "given to us by that committee (Capital Improvement Needs Committee) is to acquire adjacent land parcels, as they become available. The second priority is to prepare a master plan. My direction from the commissioners is to move out on these things."
Givens is hopeful that everything will work out for the best.
"Hopefully we're off to a start to an improved county fairgrounds," he said.
Karen Hutchinson-Talaski can be reached at email@example.com.