More than a decade before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a few years before the ice storm of 1996 hit the Spokane area, a local firefighter had a vision for protecting the community in times of crisis.
In the early 1990s, Terry Reed approached Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams with his idea to house emergency responders such as police, fire and the Washington Army National Guard in one location. If they all operated from one spot, the reaction to a natural disaster, terrorist attack or civil disturbance could be handled more smoothly, argued Reed, who also served in the Guard.
Williams was convinced, but it has taken about 15 years to put the final pieces together. On Thursday, federal, state and local officials gathered to break ground on a 69,000-square-foot facility in east Spokane that will house the Guard’s Spokane operation. The Spokane Readiness Center’s neighbors include the 911 Communications Center, Fire Station 8 and fire training and maintenance facilities, all built within the last 10 or so years.
“The Spokane Readiness Center will make us safer, and that is a great service for our entire community,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray told the audience of about 60 during a short ceremony. “This building will always stand as a symbol of our respect for you and our gratitude for your service,” she told the Guard members.
Although Thursday’s ceremony was billed as a groundbreaking, construction on the center was already under way.
“We’ve got the money, so we’re going forward,” Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg of the Guard joked with a nod to the construction crews behind him.
The center is costing about $10.6 million in state and federal funds. Local bonds have paid for most of the other buildings already at the 23-acre complex just east of Spokane Community College near the intersection of Mission Avenue and Rebecca Street.
The new building, which should open next June, will house classrooms, an eating area, locker rooms, offices and training areas.
While its primary role will be as a training and operations center for the 330 Guard members from the 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry, plus subordinate units of the 2nd Battalion, 146th Field Artillery and 1st Battalion, 303rd Armor, it will also be available for public use.
ALSC Architects PS designed the building and Lydig Construction Inc. is the general contractor.
This is the local Guard’s first new facility since 1906, when a $58,000 armory was built downtown at Second Avenue and McClellan Street. The units moved their operations to Geiger Field in the 1970s but will leave that location once the new center is completed.
After the ceremony, Williams said the complex already has helped integrate the day-to-day operations of local emergency management. More coordination is expected there as incidents occur, such as if wildfires break out this summer.
The Sept. 11 attacks forced many communities to make their emergency response teams run more efficiently. But in Spokane, where similar plans had been under way for about a decade, the national disaster changed the focus of the project.
Originally, the vision was to put all the operations in one large building. After the attacks, it was unknown whether federal dollars would be available. Not wanting to jeopardize the other parts of the project, coordinators chose to build separate buildings on the same site rather than holding out for one large facility, Williams said. Eventually, the federal money came through.
Attendees Thursday traversed a muddy, rocky road to take part in the ceremony.
Not on site was the man responsible for the project’s original concept. Reed, who’s retired now from the fire department and the Guard, was responding to a different sort of emergency elsewhere in Spokane: His daughter-in-law was in labor with his first grandchild.
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