Cook Building

The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners has approved the sale of the Cook building at 435 E. Newport Ave.

The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners has approved sale of its annex in Hermiston known as the Cook Building.

The sale is part of a three-way deal with the county, the city of Hermiston and landowners, Douglas and Joyce Barak, to facilitate the building of a new city hall in Hermiston.

The Baraks own the Lanham Building, a small suite of business offices next to city hall. The city needs the Lanham property in order to make its planned new, larger city hall fit on the current city hall property at 180 N.E. Second St. In exchange for selling the Lanham Building to the city for $400,000, the Baraks will purchase the Cook Building for $400,000 — essentially, a trade.

The Cook Building, located at 435 E. Newport Ave., currently hosts offices for the county’s public health, human services, veteran services and the CARES program. After the county sells the building to the Baraks, Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock said the county plans to lease the building from them until the new city hall is complete. The terms of the lease are still under negotiation, Murdock said.

Once the new city hall is complete, the county will move the services currently located in the Cook Building into a 5,000-square-foot space in city hall that the city is adding to plan for future growth. According to a deal previously signed by both parties, the county will have use of that space for a minimum of 15 years in exchange for its $3 million investment in the new city hall. The $400,000 from the Cook Building will be credited toward that $3 million.

Murdock emphasized that the $3 million comes from payments in lieu of taxes that the county is receiving from large developments in Hermiston’s enterprise zone. It fits with the county’s plan of reinvesting enterprise zone funds into the cities where they came from.

“The county general fund is not making a contribution,” he said. “These are development funds generated in Hermiston.”

During the Dec. 16, 2020, meeting where the commissioners voted for the sale of the Cook Building, Commissioner Bill Elfering stated that he felt the county was getting a good deal based on cost, and the public would benefit being able to visit county offices that were newer, larger and in a more accessible location.

“I’ve had opportunities to discuss this with counsel and also with finance, and it appears to be quite a good proposition with us to enter into with the city of Hermiston,” he said.

The Hermiston City Council voted in June 2020 to approve purchase of the Lanham Building, but City Manager Byron Smith said the sale had not yet closed because the parties involved had been waiting for the Cook Building sale to be approved.

Smith said bids for construction of the new city hall will close near the end of January. The architects for the project estimate it will take about 18 months to build, Smith said, but in his experience contractors tend to have a longer estimate than architects so it may be more like a two-year project.

Since a fire in the HVAC system and the resulting smoke did more than $100,000 in damage to the old city hall in December 2019, city staff have been farmed out to several other buildings. Contractors have been working on renovating the underutilized basement of the Hermiston Public Library across the street, and Smith said the basement should be ready for city staff to move into near the end of January or beginning of February.

“We’ve had a few hiccups with getting materials since COVID has shut down plants,” he said.

He said employees moving into the temporary city hall in the library basement include “customer service” staff, such as the city recorder, human resources and the finance department. Once they leave their current location at the old Carnegie Library next door, the city’s planning department will move into that space.

Once the new three-story city hall is built, it will include staff that had previously been located at the old city hall and in the Carnegie Library, as well as freeing up space for Hermiston Police Department by moving the municipal court from the police station to the new city hall. The basement of the library will then be used to expand the library’s collection and services.

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