Columbia County has signed a three-year lease for the main floor of the historic John Gumm School building, at 251 St. Helens Street.
The lease is $5,580 a month for more than 10,000 square feet, according to Columbia County Commissioner Margaret Magruder.
Four tenants currently occupy the main floor. They were all given a 30-day notice Friday, Aug. 28 to move out, according to the building owner and managing partner for the building, who said he did not want to be named.
The 30,000-square-foot building is listed at $1.5 million and is currently owned by The Olde School, LLC, which leases out different rooms of the building to different tenants. Most tenants on the main floor were on month-to-month leases, except for one, but all leases included a 30-day clause, according to the building owner. There are three floors in the building; a basement, a main floor, and an upper floor, as well as storage units in the back.
The county will begin to move in on Oct. 1.
The building, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in September of last year, served as a school from September of 1919 until December of 1999, according to an article published in The Chronicle by Brandon Sundeen, a representative from the Columbia County Historical Society and Museum Association.
The building and school got its name from former local resident John Gum, whom Sundeen describes as “an early and well-liked resident of St. Helens and Columbia City.” His headstone, when he died in 1883, mistakenly bore the name “John Gumm.”
“The name stuck like the gum under the school’s desks and even though the building no longer bears the name, there are still references to John Gumm, including John Gumm Way on the site of what was once the school’s athletic field,” Sundeen writes in the article.
Columbia County Commissioner Henry Heimuller mentioned buying the building at the county’s Aug. 5 work session.
The county will use the floor for additional office space, according to Columbia County Commissioner Margaret Magruder.
“We have been looking since the pandemic started for some more space, not only for staff, but for public meetings, because we don’t have a spot to accommodate public meetings in our current facility. We want to protect our staff and protect the public and still keep our services available,” Magruder said.
The plan is to move the 14 employees with the county’s public health department into the facility as soon as possible. Because the building has a large auditorium on the main floor, that space will also be used for county meetings that will give attendees enough space to physically distance, according to Magruder.
Sage Cortez, owner of Hand and Fire, a ceramic and small batch pottery company, currently operates out of the school’s former library on the main floor. According to Cortez, the space is approximately 800 square feet, which she occupied in May of last year. Cortez said they received their notice to move on Friday, Aug. 28. They must move out by Oct. 1.
Cortez said the building’s owner has always been clear that the building is for sale, and her month-to-month lease meant she could be given notice to move at any time. However, the timing is still inconvenient for her.
“I don’t have any hard feelings against the owner, it’s more so that the county is moving in, snatching things up from under us, putting us in a high-stakes situation. It’s not good timing any time, but especially during COVID when things are hard, it’s just another level of stress that doesn’t need to be there,” Cortez said.
Cotez said her temporary solution is to move her business into the basement of her home until she can find another property. As the owner of a high liability company, Cortez said it’s hard for her to simply move into any available space.
While preparations for the move are in the works, Cortez said she is in the middle of working on the biggest contract her business has ever taken on, which must be completed by Oct. 15. Additionally, she and her partner are rushing to get pre-approved for a home loan so they can move into a different place.
According to the spokesperson, the county approached the owner about leasing the main floor.
The building has other tenants: several on the basement floor, and several storage areas in the storage building behind the school that several people rent out. The upper floor is unfinished, so it is not rented out, according to the spokesperson. The spokesperson declined to reveal exactly how many tenants are in the building.
“This is the first time I have leased that much space to any single party. In the past 18 years I have leased to individuals, but not to large entities like that,” the spokesperson said.
The same spokesperson said the county is still interested in buying the building, but there has been no official action taken on their part. The spokesperson said the building has been for sale since the day he bought it, which was back in 2002.
“I hope it sells because I want to finish retiring,” the spokesperson said.
The building is listed through Berkshire Hathaway. Interested parties can contact the building owner at (503) 936-0139.
The following is a release from Columbia County.
The Columbia County Board of Commissioners recently approved a three-year lease agreement with The Olde School, LLC for the John Gumm School building to utilize the facility for the County’s Public Health Department and more adequately social-distanced meeting spaces.
The lease will be funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (or “CARES Act”) designated for necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19. Under CARES Act guidance, this funding may only be used to meet payroll expenses for public safety, public health, health care, human services, and similar employees whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to COVID-19.
Under the Cares Act, the County can be reimbursed for expenses that meet certain criteria:
1. The expense is due to the COVID-19 emergency (i.e., the expense would not exist but for COVID-19).
2. The expense is “necessary” (i.e., reasonably necessary in the reasonable judgment of the County).
3. The expense is not filling a shortfall in government revenues. (Revenue replacement is not allowed).
4. Costs were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020
“The Treasury has set forth guidelines that must be met to spend this money, and the most immediate priority within those guidelines we can qualify for is providing a safe and manageable working environment for our employees who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 emergency,” Commissioner Margaret Magruder said. “We must also utilize these funds by December 30, 2020.”
Each Columbia County department was asked to put forth a list of priorities based on their needs for their response to COVID-19. Public Health Director Michael Paul’s top priority was additional space for the Public Health Department.
“We’ve got a growing team. Additional staff has been brought on to help with our communicable disease response and contact tracing. With other increasing changes within our department, we have now gone from three staff members to 15,” Paul said. “We are currently housed in different buildings to adequately social distance, and it’s making it difficult to respond and collaborate as a team.”
Paul said all of these 15 positions are being funded through state or federal grants and/or licensing fees.
Additionally, there have been concerns raised amongst County staff that the County’s current public meeting space is not large enough for the public to attend in person and remain safely socially distanced. The John Gumm facility will allow for a larger public meeting space.
The County will lease the building on a three-year lease commitment at $5,500 a month with the intent to make an acquisition down the road. The agreement includes a clause that gives the County first right of refusal, so any investments made will not go against the County in a purchase, according to Director of General Services, Casey Garrett.
“Since we have limited time to utilize the CARES Act funding, leasing allows us to have more time to do our due diligence,” Garrett said. “The owner of the building has already put a million plus worth of improvements into the building for things like seismic and environmental upgrades, and we’ll utilize the CARES funding to make some facility upgrades to the main floor to make the space sufficient for county operations."