REA begins work on empty Port site

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WALLA WALLA -- The conversion of a long-empty Port of Walla Walla warehouse into a remodeled facility for the expanding operations of Columbia Rural Electric Association is to start this summer, officials say.

Renovation of the 88,000-square-foot warehouse and construction of a 6,000-square-foot addition at the Melrose Street property originally constructed for Strauser Manufacturing will begin in June.

The start of construction comes not quite one year after the Dayton-based electric cooperative first publicly announced its intention to expand in Walla Walla.

The co-op bought the 10-acre property from the Port last year for roughly $5.3 million. After needed cleanup at the property, the sale was completed in January, said Columbia REA Manager of Marketing and Member Services Scott Peters.

Representatives of the 73-year-old electric co-op have been working with USKH Inc. on design and engineering. Opp & Seibold General Construction will lead construction at the property.

After some demolition work, groundbreaking on construction is to begin this month.

The revitalized facility will replace Columbia REA's existing Rees Avenue service center, which is undersized for the operation, officials have said.

Slated to open in February 2013, the Melrose facility is also expected to house much of the equipment at Columbia REA's Dayton location and increase visibility for the operation in Walla Walla. The headquarters will continue to remain in Dayton, where the co-op got its start in 1939.

Peters said about seven employees will be relocated from Dayton to Walla Walla when the work is complete. The co-op employs 53 people, a growth of 13 employees over the last four years.

A community room that will seat from 72 to 105 people will also be available for events. Landscaping and beautification are a major part of the plan, as well.

"It's going to be a beautiful new look," Peters said.

The move brings new life to a building that's been empty more than five years. It also marks the return of a government-owned building to the tax rolls.

Strauser filed bankruptcy in 1990 and moved out of the building. From 1995 to 2005 the property was leased by Key Technology.

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