THE DALLES, Ore. — The Oregon National Guard held a dedication ceremony for a facility Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) called “a shining example of community collaboration” in The Dalles, Ore., April 17.
The Fort Dalles Readiness Center replaces the Webber Street armory, built in 1951, as the home of Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry, Oregon Army National Guard. Approximately 150 Soldiers will gather at the facility each month to train. The space is also shared with Columbia Gorge Community College.
The new facility was unveiled to members of the local and regional community during a ceremony attended by both Wyden and his counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Merkley said the building was first proposed in 2007 when he began his campaign against then-Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith.
“There is no other facility anywhere in the country like this, first in terms of the view, and secondly representing the collaboration between being a community center, a college facility, and a National Guard armory,” Merkley said.
Others in attendance included Oregon Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles, OR-District 59); The Dalles Mayor Stephen Lawrence: Dr. Frank Toda, president of Columbia Gorge Community College; Maj. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the adjutant general, Oregon; and Brig. Gen. Steven Beach, commander of 82nd Brigade Troop Command.
Wyden joked during his speech that the old armory was “old, old, old,” but added that it had also lasted more than a half-century.
“The old armory did so much to honor our country and the individuals who trained there, and who represented Oregon’s values,” Wyden said.
He drew a parallel to Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech in 1984, where the president said America “is a shining city on a hill, whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”
“It seems fitting that we now have a wonderful shining armory on a hill,” Wyden said during his speech.
Dr. Frank Toda, president of Columbia Gorge Community College, said the dedication ceremony was the culmination of 12 years of hard work, adding that the process was complicated.
“This is a great relief,” Toda said. “It is one of the most complex endeavors we have ever tried to accomplish.”
Toda emphasized the collaboration between the city of The Dalles, the college, and the Oregon National Guard.
“This is a meeting place,” he said. “We are really big on the community of our college, and one of the challenges we’ve faced is having a big enough space to bring together large groups. This building is the community.”
Oregon’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, mirrored Toda’s remarks, but added that the collaboration between all the partners included political support from Congress, the Oregon State Legislature, and local elected officials.
“We have great support from our Congressional delegation and the state legislature and Oregon’s governor, that really supported the building of this facility,” Hokanson added.
Hokanson said people may ask how the partners had the foresight to envision a facility that would be "a standing figure in the community" for years to come. That answer, in part, goes back to a conversation between Toda and Hokanson’s predecessor, retired Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees.
Toda said Oregon’s former adjutant general approached him in 2001 while he was on a business trip in Washington, D.C. Rees suggested building a facility that benefited the Oregon National Guard, the community college and the city of The Dalles.
The two talked about how best to integrate National Guard armories into their surrounding communities, Toda said. Rees also proposed that armories could be utilized by not just the surrounding community, but also education centers like community colleges. While Toda admitted he was originally skeptical of the plan, he was eventually won over by Rees’ persistence.
“I will tell you, had Maj. Gen. Rees and I not had a conversation about what success looks like when you connect the National Guard, the community college and the local community, this facility would not be here today.”
“Thank you, General Rees, for your vision, focus, and dream of connecting the National Guard to the community,” Toda added.
The design of the new building incorporates use of separate areas devoted to the community college and Oregon’s Citizen-Soldiers, but also large common areas which can be utilized by both groups, or members of the local community.
The bottom floor of the building will be used by students and faculty of community college, including two labs, two classrooms, a computer work area, and a break area with a small kitchen.
The second floor of the building contains office space, a commercial-grade kitchen and a 10,000 square-foot assembly hall for the Oregon Guard unit. The third floor houses a fitness center, locker rooms and other spaces to accommodate training needs of the Soldiers.
The facility also includes a shared industrial shop, providing 12 student welding labs and a maintenance bay for Oregon National Guard vehicles.
The readiness center will serve the community with flexible rental space and it meets all building codes for Americans with Disabilities Act and seismic requirements. Striving to meet a “Net-Zero” design, architects and planners have incorporated copious use of natural lighting throughout, energy-saving fixtures, “green technology” and other design elements to help align the facility with State Energy Efficient Design requirements.
Perhaps the most striking feature about the facility cannot be ignored - the view.
The building is constructed on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge, just above the city of The Dalles. Facing north, designers took full advantage of the hillside location, incorporating an entire frontage of floor-to-ceiling windows, which cover the entire three-story facade. The open-atrium style drill floor takes full advantage of this view, in addition to several other interior vantage points, through windows or catwalks and open-air hallways.
“Look at this view,” Hokanson said, as he turned around to marvel at the bend in the Columbia River just below the massive The Dalles Dam. “This is one of those facilities where years from now folks will look back and say, ‘Wow, what a great project.’”
Hokanson added that he hopes to see many more facilities like the Fort Dalles Readiness Center in the future.
“I hope to pursue additional projects where we collaborate with the local community and organizations to build facilities that benefit everyone,” he said.