Wide load: Portable classrooms to become South County food bank’s new home

<p>A caravan of portable buildings makes its way early Sunday morning on U.S. Highway 101 from Cannon Beach to Seaside. Used as classrooms at the former Cannon Beach Elementary School, the portables will house the South County Community Food Bank in Seaside.</p>

Moving day came early last Sunday — about 5:30 a.m. — but, then, it wasn’t your usual move.

Instead of packing furniture and clothes in a U-Haul and heading to a new house, the heavy equipment operators hooked up four halves of two portable classrooms to trailer hitches and maneuvered them out of Cannon Beach, over the hill and onto property in Seaside.

Five hours later, Neal Wallace, board president of the South County Community Food Bank, was celebrating with a cup of coffee and a donut, toasting the safe arrival of the portables at their new home.

“There were really very few hitches,” Wallace said.

Once used as classrooms at the former Cannon Beach Elementary School, the portables were donated by the Seaside School District to begin a new life as the South County Community Food Bank. The portables will be set up on property the food bank bought on U.S. Highway 101 northeast of Seaside High School.

Despite cars parked where they shouldn’t be, a few tight turns for the 12-foot to 14-foot-wide loads and a wobbly wheel bearing on one of the trailers that halted the trip down the Cannon Beach hill for a short while, the mission was accomplished with aplomb.

“This is a real thrill,” said Mary Blake, a food bank board member who brought the coffee, donuts and water to the site to refresh weary workers.

Chuck Miner, a Seaside Chamber of Commerce board member, who also came to watch the procession of the portables, agreed with Blake.

“This is a great community,” Miner said. “It takes so many people; it’s awesome that so many have helped with this.”

The move actually started nearly three years ago when the chamber of commerce and the food bank boards partnered to begin a fundraising campaign. The food bank’s former building, donated by the Seaside Moose Lodge, needed major repairs. It was too small to contain the hundreds of families seeking food boxes every month and to store the food properly. And, the property was for sale.

When then chamber of commerce Director Al Smiles announced that the chamber would help the food bank find a new building, donations — from the chamber foundation, the food bank board, Seaside Rotary, Port of Astoria, Pacific Power, the city of Seaside and others — totaled nearly $65,000.

But negotiations over a potential site faltered for many months, and finding a suitable building in the right location wasn’t easy. The food bank board searched for grants from foundations, but, until the board could find a site, the foundations were reluctant to make commitments. The food bank board began the application process for a state-administered community development block grant, but the amount of documentation required and the potential restrictions placed on the location discouraged the board.

“It would have meant $1.5 million in taxpayer money,” Wallace said. “We would have had a beautiful building, but it would have been a government project in the area.

“But this is just truly a community project, not a government-funded project. It doesn’t get any more community than this.”

The project took on new energy earlier this year when the buyer of the Moose Lodge property asked the food bank to vacate the building within 30 days. The food bank board began looking for vacant property, with the idea of placing portables on it for quick set-up. While talking about his plans at a Seaside Downtown Development Association breakfast, one of those attending suggested that he ask Seaside School District Superintendent Doug Dougherty if the food bank could use the portable classrooms at the former school site.

Wallace did just that, and the district donated the portables. He estimated the food bank saved $35,000 by not buying new portables and gained at least 300 more square feet.

In the meantime, the board found property at 2041 N. Roosevelt Drive, just north of the bus barn and along the west bank of Neawanna Creek. The property’s owner, Bank of the Pacific, sold the property to the food bank for $169,000 and contributed $49,000 toward the property’s purchase. The bank also found a temporary location for the food bank until it could move to its new location: a portion of the CRM building just south of the permanent site. The bank is also contributing $2,000 a month toward the $2,000 monthly rent on the CRM location.

“Probably the thing that sets this community apart so much is not only the volunteers but the ability to put aside funding for the things we need to,” Blake said. “The real player in this has been the Bank of the Pacific.”

“The other beautiful thing is that the food bank never missed a day of operation. The Bank of the Pacific donated that, too,” Blake said.

At least another $120,000 is needed to pay off the property and complete the project, Miner estimated. A fundraising campaign will begin soon, he said.

Miner credited Wallace, who also is the public works director for the city of Seaside, for shepherding the project.

“With his expertise, he has been a real help,” Miner said. “He jumped in with both feet.”

At first, Wallace said, he thought the move would be “no problem.” But as the date got closer, he started to worry.

“There were so many pieces to put together, and after being on so many projects, I know about Murphy’s Law,” he said.

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, he knew, but despite a week’s delay involving the moving permit and some last-minute glitches with parking signs, a locked gate that nearly barred the trucks from using Second Avenue in Cannon Beach to get onto U.S. Highway 101 and that wobbly wheel bearing, the move was relatively smooth.

Next on the agenda is a foundation for the portables, support beams to hold heavy shelves of canned goods, a new sidewalk, landscaping, parking, refrigeration for cold storage and myriad other details that will make the South County Community Food Bank a welcome place that serves about 1,000 people every month. Wallace expects the building will be ready in August.

“Now the fun begins,” Wallace said.

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