Grant request denied to turn Elks Lodge into social service center

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WALLA WALLA -- A hoped-for grant to convert the city's Elks Lodge building into a social services center has been turned down.

The $1 million Community Development Block Grant was central to a plan for Walla Walla County to purchase the downtown building. County officials learned the grant request had been denied Friday, said Daryl Daugs, county Human Services Department director.

Daugs said he was told the reason for the denial was the large number of funding requests this year versus the limited funds available. There were 53 applications for grants and only $14 million total available for disbursement, he said.

"There was nothing wrong with our request. It really came down to there's just so much money and so many requests," Daugs told county commissioners today.

Commissioners made an offer in December to buy the building at East Rose and Palouse Streets for $2.1 million from the Elks Building Association. The deal was contingent on the county receiving grant funding on or before the end of this month.

The remaining funds to convert the building would have come from other grants to be procured plus county matching funds.

Plans called for the county Department of Human Services and Blue Mountain Action Council to move into the building, which was considered to be better situated for serving many of the clients of both agencies. Other service agencies would be invited to move into the building as well.

Despite the setback, Daugs said the county remains committed to the idea of creating a social services center.

"We are very dedicated to the idea, still," he said.

Loney also said the county will continue to pursue the project.

"We do have options. What we need is money," he said.

Speaking to a reporter in December, Harold Lee, exalted ruler of the Elks organization, said this was the first time the lodge has found it necessary to consider downsizing.

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

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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