Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

On a visit to one of Baker City’s oldest structures on the day after Halloween, it was easy to conjure up images of days gone by from the second floor overlooking Main Street.

The building, which has been owned by the International Order of Odd Fellows since 1888, was developed and was part of a railroad warehouse in 1884, a description of the site written for the state Department of Environmental Quality states.

The building houses the former lodge hall upstairs at 1720 Main St.; and downstairs is home to The Little Bagel Shop at 1780 Main St. and a separate entrance leads to the longtime site of the now defunct offices of The Record-Courier newspaper at 1718 Main St.

A chair lift that is still operational, though condemned with a warning to “use at your own risk,” carried people upstairs for Odd Fellows lodge meetings, parties and dances.

Baker High School teacher Megan Alameda is well-acquainted with the building, its history and its hazards.

As she strolls through the upstairs of the building, she describes among its seven rooms one that housed bunkbeds and provided closets for soldiers during the war, another that housed a large pool table that filled one room and a ballroom that most recently was used for square dancing.

When the International Order of Odd Fellows, which has its headquarters in Portland, decided it wanted to sell the 8,200-square-foot building, it hired a consulting firm to determine any cleanup needs.

That’s when Alameda, who teaches environmental science at Baker Technical Institute, suggested the lodge turn the cleanup project over to students in her class titled BHS/BTI Environmental Science: Brownfield in Baker.

The Baker School Board gave its blessing to the plan in February and Alameda’s class began working toward developing a cleanup plan.

The lodge has agreed to donate the building to the school district with the understanding that the lodge’s real estate agent will be used to make the sale once cleanup, funded with grant money, is completed. A portion of the sale profit also will be returned to the lodge, Alameda said.

The Little Bagel Shop plans to stay put while experts do the work, which will not affect the business, Alameda said.

“There are three distinct properties and we are cleaning up two,” she said. “The bagel shop has no contamination and our work there shouldn’t interfere with its operation.”

Alameda and her class have been working with state Department of Environmental Quality representative Charles Kennedy, a natural resource specialist and environmental scientist, who is the cleanup project manager.

“My role really is to work with the person I consider my client ... so we all achieve a positive outcome,” he said. “We want to do the best job as cost-effectively as possible.”

Kennedy met with students in Alameda’s class on Oct. 2 to talk to them about his role and his insights through his work on environmental contamination and remediation projects.

His time is paid through state and federal funds and is not billed to the district for the brownfield cleanup, he said.

Before the district can take ownership of the property, it first must negotiate a perspective purchaser agreement (PPA), Kennedy said. The document shields the district from any liability obligation to complete cleanup at the site, he said.

Contamination comes mostly from an adjacent gas station and from the long-term use of the site by The Record-Courier newspaper and the chemicals and lead used in its weekly production. Lead-based paint and asbestos are other issues to be addressed in the cleanup of the two sites.

A $60,000 grant paid for the Phase 1 and Phase 2 portions of the work to this point, Alameda said.

A 30-day public comment period seeking input from adjacent property owners and other interested parties ended on Oct. 31. Next the project will be reviewed by a judge who is expected to sign off on a consent judgment that will allow the project to go forward.

Once that step is completed, Alameda’s Brownfield class will begin the process of issuing requests for proposals from contractors to do the cleanup work at the site.

“If a private business owner or resident decides to clean up a property, they get loans for Phase 1 and Phase 2 to know what the final cleanup needs will be,” Alameda said. “If we as a school district or nonprofit take it over we get grants for the cleanup and assessment.”

The brownfield class has cleaned up one property, the former site of the Ostwald Machine Shop at 2430 Balm St. The property was donated to the school district to benefit students. The school district received an assessment grant and a $200,000 cleanup grant for that property, Alameda said. The cleanup cost was $125,000 and the property was sold for $45,000.

In addition to paying the cost of the cleanup, the profit also paid for Alameda’s salary and curriculum to involve students in the work for three years and funding for field trips to share what students are learning about brownfield cleanup. A scholarship fund also has been established.

Read more in the Monday, Nov. 6, 2017 issue of the Baker City Herald.