Community Bank to build new branch on Commercial Drive

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COLLEGE PLACE -- Community Bank plans to break ground on a three-story bank branch and administrative office building in the first major development on Commercial Drive.

Tom Moran, president and chief executive officer of the Oregon-based bank, said construction of the 21,000-square-foot facility is expected to be complete at the end of this year. The building should be occupied in the first quarter of 2011, he said.

The new facility will be built at Myra Road and the southbound side of State Route 125 in College Place, across from Petco. Moran said the final cost estimate for the investment has not yet been calculated. However, consumers should see the project -- intended to both consolidate local operations and expand the bank's presence here -- as a sign of the company's financial health, Moran said.

"We hope the fact that we are making an investment in the community is an indication that we'll be here for many years to come," he said.

The construction is particularly timely with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s recent announcement that 702 banks across the country are in danger of failing this year.

Community Bank, recently awarded four stars in Bankrate.com's Safe & Sound Ratings Service for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, has heard consumer concerns throughout the so-called Great Recession, Moran said.

"The news of failures affects the entire industry," he said. "Every time that happens we try to let the customers know the bank is secure."

He said the company has also tried to fight the notion that banks aren't lending money.

That message should become more clear with the construction of the new building, he said. "That should lend some credibility to our balance sheet."

Based in Joseph, Ore., Community Bank has $355 million in assets and 160 employees.

The new building will become home to an estimated 25 to 30 of those workers. In addition to the full-service branch, which includes drive-through lanes, an ATM and training space for bank employees, the building will house administrative offices for several managers.

The Eastgate branch at 420 Wellington Ave. is expected to close June 4, Community Bank Marketing Director Keith Burghardt said. The bank's administrative office at 7 S. First Ave. in downtown Walla Walla will transition into the new building once the construction is complete.

Community Bank's downtown Walla Walla branch at 28 E. Alder St. will remain open after the College Place building is complete, Burghardt said. No staffing cuts are expected throughout the changeover.

Moran said the new facility, located a stretch down from the site of Gilbert Auto Group's proposed autoplex, could help jump start other development projects along the highway.

"Simply building something out in that area could promote some other development," he said.

Community Bank, a subsidiary of Community Bancshares Inc., has long intended to develop at that spot, Moran explained. The project was postponed while the cities of College Place and Walla Walla worked through access issues related to the property.

"It's always been our intent to be there," Moran said. "We want to be right there as the first bank customers come across as they come to Walla Walla."

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