Elks offer building for social service center

The county is looking to build, and the lodge is looking to move, leading to a potential sale.

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WALLA WALLA -- The city's venerable Elks Lodge may be in line for a new life.

Walla Walla County commissioners have made an offer to buy the building to create a center for social service agencies, including the county Human Services Department and Blue Mountain Action Council.

The county has been looking to create a community social services center, said Gregg Loney, county commission chairman.

The location under consideration has been at West Stevens and Tietan Street on county-owned land and the county has recently applied for a state grant to help construct the building.

However, Loney said that county officials were recently "approached by the Elks to see if the county would be interested in their building." After consulting with Steve Moss, BMAC executive director, commissioners approved an offer to purchase the building at their Dec. 7 meeting.

Although a counter-offer was presented three days later by the Elks Building Association, it was not signed, which caused the initial offer to expire. Commissioners approved a new offer Monday to buy the building for $2.1 million.

The offer "is now back in the Elks' court," Loney said.

The deal is contingent on the county acquiring grant funding on or before May 31, 2010. The county has a pending application for a Community Development Block Grant. Plans call for the project to be funded with other grants to be procured in the future as well as with county matching funds.

Located at East Rose and Palouse Streets, the Elks building would be better situated for many of the people who are served by the human services department and BMAC, Loney said. Other agencies, such as Helpline, have also been or will be approached to see if they would be interested in having their offices in the center.

It's the first time the lodge has found it necessary to consider downsizing, noted Harold Lee, exalted ruler of the organization.

"The membership has dwindled and that is true of this fraternal order and all fraternal orders. Their membership is slowly disappearing," Lee pointed out. "What was in vogue when these organizations were strong, is not at the forefront of society anymore."

The brotherhood of Elks is known for community support, Lee said. "You know what our motto is? 'Elks care and Elks share.'"

Some people perceive the lodge to be a drinking club and that keeps them away, he believes. "The media doesn't give us the publicity in the things we do."

It's led to having a building too big for the current need, Lee said. A proposal to sell the Rose Street building will be put to a membership vote.

"It will be a tremendous loss to this community. We have weddings, quinceañeros, conferences and weekly meetings. We have a church in there now. A lot goes on in that building."

In Lee's opinion, the best thing that could happen with the proposed sale is a surge in membership of people who are interested in reinvigorating the club and its missions. "A thousand people to come down," he said.

"But that's not going to happen. What I see happening is we'll sell the building and downsize. We'll shop for a more equitable facility to move into and remodel."

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