Top 5 stories: School bond, City Hall, Mountain View Hospital change, new tribal casino, and fish passage

by: Photo by Holly M. Gill - The new Madras City Hall-Police Station will open in January.

In the midst of a recession, with double-digit unemployment, who would have believed that local communities would come together to pass a major school bond, build a new city hall-police station and casino, and reach a critical decision about the hospital?
   Those were just a few of the stories topping the news in Jefferson County in 2012. The following are the top five stories that grabbed local headlines:
   School bond gets nod
   The crowning achievement that will likely have the greatest impact in the county in coming years is School District 509-J's passage of a $26.6 million bond in May.
   The bond will fund half the cost of construction of a school in Warm Springs to house kindergarten through eighth-grade students -- for a total of $10,736,300, with the other half kicked in by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. The elementary school will be located on donated land on Chukar Road, on the hill behind the Museum at Warm Springs.
   Districtwide, voters passed the bond by a comfortable margin of 1,466 yes to 1,225 no, but in Warm Springs, voters overwhelmingly favored a resolution to fund the other half of the school -- by 75 percent to 22 percent.
   Overseeing the construction of the school, as well as other construction projects funded by the bond is the Wenaha Group, of Pendleton. A construction management team for the Warm Springs school has not yet been selected.
   In Madras, a new $8 million performing arts center will be built east of Madras High School, next to a new athletic facility to be built as part of the reconfiguration of the football stadium and track.
   Donald Stevens, architect and principal in the BBT Architects firm, of Bend, said that the three biggest points of discussion on the project on the latter two projects are the location of the agricultural/greenhouse area adjacent to MHS' agriculture department, the planned 45-degree tilt of the football field, and the 180-degree turn of the baseball field.
   "That's being done to create a core of the athletic facilities around the concessions and restroom facility, on the north end of the football field," said Stevens.
   The performing arts center and the football stadium will share a plaza, with a ticketing area on the north end, near the parking lot, which will also be shared.
   On Jan. 3, the Design Task Force, staff, board and community members will hold a schematic design meeting.
   Stevens anticipates that his firm will finalize documents for bidding by the beginning of June, so construction can begin in the summer, and the facilities will be ready for use in the fall of 2014.
   Even after passing the new bond, taxpayers in the district will pay a little less than they paid for the current year, since one old bond will be paid off in 2013, and another will be merged with the new 20-year bond at a total rate expected to remain under $3 per $1,000 of taxable property value.
   Over $7.9 million will be spent on capital improvements throughout the district, including repairing or replacing asphalt and adding a card-lock security system at all the schools, reroofing Buff Elementary and the Westside annex, resurfacing the Jefferson County Middle School track and adding athletic storage, adding fire sprinklers at Metolius Elementary and Westside, and removing and replacing exterior walls at Madras Primary, as well as a variety of other repairs and upgrades at all the schools.
   City hall-police station built
   A decade ago, a group of Madras-area citizens and officials got together to envision what they wanted to see in the city's future.
   A key element was a new city hall-police station to replace the crowded, cobbled together building that houses city offices on one side, and the police station on the other.
   This week, that dream becomes a reality, as CS Construction, of Bend, puts finishing touches on the $5.4 million project, in preparation for city staff's move into the building in mid-January.
   Kenny Rice, project superintendent for CS Construction, said the contractor will conduct a "punch-list walk" with city officials on Jan. 3.
   "For the most part, everything is finished," he said. "They should have the certificate of occupancy by the end of the week."
   On Saturday, Jan. 12, the city will hold its dedication and open house to allow the public to see the new 14,800-square-foot facility, located at the corner of Fourth and E streets.
   Designed by Steele Associates Architects, of Bend, the building features a public lobby separating the 7,060-square-foot city hall offices and council chamber on the west side of the building from the 5,910-square-foot police station on the east side.
   In front of the building is a plaza, where pavers simulate the look of three rivers coming together -- reminiscent of the confluence of the Metolius, Crooked and Deschutes rivers in Jefferson County at The Cove. At the front of the plaza are the Thomas Tucker memorial statue at the corner, and the veterans memorial, directly in front of the building.
   Protected parking for the police department, as well as public parking are located in the back of the building. Police will access their parking lot from Fourth Street, but everyone else will access parking from the entrance on E Street.
   Furniture and equipment for the facility is expected to arrive Jan. 14. Surplus property from the old city hall and police station will be sold or donated. In December, the City Council specified that city employees at other locations will have first consideration for the property -- such as desks, chairs and computer equipment -- followed by nonprofits that apply for the equipment on a first-come, first-served basis.
   All remaining furniture and equipment will be donated to local thrift stores.
   Hospital becomes St. Charles Madras
   As of Jan. 1, Mountain View Hospital -- the last independent hospital in Central Oregon -- became St. Charles Madras.
   On Nov. 27, the hospital's board of directors unanimously voted to transfer the district's assets to St. Charles Health System, which owns St. Charles Bend and St. Charles Redmond, and leases and operates Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Prineville.
   Under the agreement, Mountain View agreed to turn over $13.1 million in gross assets, which includes the hospital facilities, 17.75 acres of property and all equipment and cash, as well as $3.4 million in debt.
   In exchange, St. Charles Health System committed to investing at least $10 million for capital improvements.
   "The transaction includes a significant infusion of capital into Mountain View's operations, ensuring the hospital is able to make much needed facility upgrades and enhance its information technology infrastructure," said Lisa Goodman, media coordinator for St. Charles Health System.
   "Additionally, we plan to offer employment to Mountain View's 220 caregivers, and maintain a similar level of services, including obstetrical care," she said.
   St. Charles Health System will also offer an appointee from Mountain View Hospital a seat on the board for a three-year term.
   The asset transfer decision was a result of changes in reimbursement for federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Indian Health Services, which are expected to dramatically reduce the hospital's income and the loss of several doctors and a surgeon, as well as a costly requirement that the hospital convert all its records to an electronic form.
   Goodman said that new signage for the facility will likely be installed within the next week.
   The Mountain View Hospital District Board of Directors will continue to meet several times over the year to oversee the transition, but the district, which was formed 45 years ago, will be dissolved sometime during the year.
   The district currently collects 25 cents per $1,000 in taxable property value for residents of the district.
   Tribes open Indian Head Casino
   When plans for building a casino at Cascade Locks faced major roadblocks two years ago, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs took quick action to build a casino closer to home.
   In February, the tribes opened the 40,000-square-foot Indian Head Casino -- which includes a restaurant, snack bar and gift shop, and 18,000-square-feet of gaming space -- on U.S. Highway 26, across from the Museum at Warm Springs.
   The response from the public has been very positive, according to Deepak Sehgal, chairman of the Warm Springs Casino and Resort Enterprise Board of Directors.
   "It's a success in many different ways, not just money, but jobs for tribal members," he said. "We'd like to see it busier, but it's our very first year; a lot of people didn't know it had moved."
   In July, in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Transportation, the highway in front of Indian Head was widened to allow easier access.
   Now, even semi tractors and trailers can access the casino. "We get a few truckers," said Sehgal. "There's plenty of room to get in and get out."
   Employment at the casino has settled down from about 215 when it opened, to "in the neighborhood of 190-plus employees," who staff the casino, Cottonwood Restaurant, Tule Grill Snack Bar and Cedar Basket Gift Shop.
   The tribes haven't given up on the Cascade Locks site.
   "The Cascade Locks casino is still something we'd like to get done, but we don't see that happening in the near future because of political concerns," said Sehgal.
   In the meantime, Indian Head is working out well. "It's right on (Highway) 26, so people don't have to take an adventure trip to find it, it's a little bigger than the one at Kah-Nee-Ta, and it's closer to the community of Madras and all of Central Oregon."
   Salmon return to Deschutes Basin
   After a 45-year process of trial and error, 2012 was the year of some major success for returning salmon to the upper basin of the Deschutes River.
   "This is the first year we had returning sockeye come back to the Deschutes Basin," said Jim Manion, general manager of Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprise.
   Manion explained that the challenge really started in 1968, when Round Butte Dam was installed on the Deschutes River, which complicated the fish passage process.
   In 2009, Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs completed a 273-foot tall selective water withdrawal tower as part of the Pelton-Round Butte fish passage project.
   Located just above the Round Butte dam, the underwater tower allows fish to be collected and sorted by size, with the smallest fish released. The remaining salmon and steelhead are transported by truck around the Round Butte, Pelton and reregulating dams, and released into the river below to begin their journey to the ocean.
   "Collecting the migrating fish was the real challenge," said Manion. "It wasn't until 2012 that we saw the sockeye salmon return to the upper basin -- above Round Butte Dam. They were tracked all the way into the Metolius River."
   Before the return of the sockeye salmon, adult chinook salmon were already returning to the upper basin, but this year the numbers increased.
   "This is the first year that we've seen a good number of adult chinook salmon," he said. "We've had 24 spring chinook reintroduced above the project, and 73 sockeye salmon."
   Manion continued, "Putting that in perspective, we've had a lot more sockeye migrating out of the upper basin in comparison with the chinook. About 65,000 chinook smolts leave the basin in comparison to about 280,000 sockeye."
   "We're hopeful we'll continue to see the numbers grow as the system continues to operate," he said. "We were happy to see that the system is working as designed."
   In addition to the reintroduction of anadromous fish above the project, the project also has a water quality mandate to manage water temperature and dissolved oxygen in the lower Deschutes.
   "The project is attempting to follow and meet those standards," said Manion.
   "Overall, the reintroduction program is operating as anticipated and we're hopeful to see the numbers increase over time."
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