Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

By Trish Yerges

For The Observer

The Union County Search and Rescue nonprofit organization will begin pouring concrete fillings for its new building, christened “Ralph’s Place,” on March 30, at 63836 Highway 203 east of La Grande.

The SAR organization, which is under the Union County Sheriff’s Department, has about 40 volunteers. The board members include: Chris Ritter, captain; Monita Woollard, secretary; Khris Wilson, treasurer; Nick Vora, training officer; and members Rob Robbins and Dan Woollard.

“The building has been in the planning and fundraising stages for six or seven years,” said SAR member and project manager Fred Hawkins. “There is no tax money being used for this project.”

The building will be erected on a 1.3-acre triangular parcel of land belonging to the City of La Grande as part of its sewage treatment plant. It wasn’t being used and was full of brush, so the SAR organization negotiated with the city to use it for its building.

As a nonprofit, the SAR organization has its own bank account with about $50,000 dedicated to the building project. It is also accepting community cash donations and in-kind donations, which can be sent to Union County Search and Rescue, 1109 K Ave., La Grande.

Among the project’s contributors to date are James Hasse of Cornerstone Home Builders, a 12-year SAR member, who will be the general contractor for the construction project; Jeff Hsu of Baggett-Griffith & Blackman surveyors, a new SAR member, who did the engineer drawings for the permits; and Les Tipton of Associated Design & En gineering, who certified the building plans for the permits.

“Between what Jeff Hsu did for us and what Les Tipton did for us, I’d say they saved us between $6,000 or $7,000,” said Hawkins. “It still cost us about $7,000 in permit fees.”

Other donors include Boise Cascade plywood mill, which donated a large supply of plywood; Kenny Glenn, a cash donor; Allan Brogoitti Construction, which provided the land clearing; and Oregon Trail Electric, which augured the pilot holes for the poles. In-kind labor has been donated by several SAR members in prepping the lot for construction.

In addition, Union County SAR was awarded grants of $2,000 from Northwest Farm Credit and $10,000 from the Wildhorse Foundation. The latter award was received July 1, 2018, which put the SAR organization on a one-year time clock for project completion.

“We have to have the first phase of our project done by July 1, 2019. That’s why Chris Ritter and I broke ground with the backhoe March 15,” said Hawkins.

The full scope of the construction project is a 60-by-180-foot metal building, but it will be built in three phases of 60-foot lengths, as the budget allows. The first phase will be a 60-by-60-foot enclosed building with roll-up doors.

“If we have a funding balance left over, we will start construction on phase II, only if all the labor is donated,” said Hawkins.

Phase II is an attached 60-by-60-foot addition. It will be an open-sided pole barn style, with possibly one side enclosed.

“We may not be able to enclose it right away with siding, but it will have a roof,” said Hawkins. “We’re going to concentrate on getting phase I and phase II finished. It may take us several more years to raise money before we can get phase III done.”

The building will provide enclosed and secure storage for SAR equipment trailers, vehicles and communication trailers.

“We have a lot of our equipment, purchased by the organization through fundraising efforts,” said Hawkins. “We have about five big cargo trailers full of equipment like ATV track machines, snowmobiles and a portable kitchen. The purpose of the building is to get those trailers under cover.”

The building will be called Ralph’s Place, a tribute to the late Ralph Wilson, a SAR member from 2006 to 2015. He passed away on Feb. 23, 2015, at 53 years of age. His dedication and contributions to SAR operations were awarded in 2008 with the Eagle Eye Award; in 2009 with the outstanding service and dedication award; and in 2015, he received an honorary deputy sheriff gold badge.

“Ralph made the original rough plans for the building when I was captain on the board, and the fundraising began at that point,” Hawkins said.

Besides cash donations, Union County SAR is looking for material contributions like rock for parking and base rock for the building floor.

“We need electrical supplies because, according to code, our interior lighting turned out to be way more extensive than we originally thought,” said Hawkins.

For more information or to make a donation of materials for the Search and Rescue building project, contact Hawkins at 541-910-0041 or .