NORTH BEND ─ The American Legion Post 34 asked Southwest Oregon Regional Airport for more time before it must leave its current location.
“I’m asking for you to grant us as much time as you can to make arrangements to get everything out of there,” said Joshua St. Ives, Legion member, during the airport’s regular board meeting on Thursday. “We’re attempting to get a new venue….”
The airport’s executive director, Theresa Cook, said that the airport is willing to work with the Legion and will offer any help it can for the organization’s relocation.
“I think at least a year will not be a problem,” said Joe Benetti, airport commissioner.
Initially, Cook said that the Legion had been notified that it had until the end of 2021 to relocate, calling the building “unsafe.”
“We will give (the Legion) time, especially if COVID is still occurring,” she said, but added that the airport does not want any capital improvements done on the building because it needs to come down. Cook said in a previous interview about the building that it was constructed in 1942 and “has outlived its useful structural life.”
The Legion site was constructed by the U.S. Army during WWII with the intention to last only five years. The structure is crumbling around the members now with pieces of the ceiling falling, water damage, mold, roof damage, and asbestos. Cook said in a previous interview that the airport has been in discussion with the Legion since 2007 to relocate because the airport’s master plan calls for removing buildings with asbestos.
“…The members of our post are kinda old,” St. Ives said. “I’m old. Most of them are older than me. The fact that we’ve been here so long and you’ve graciously allowed us to be here so long, we want to thank you… I know full well what the airport does and you do an outstanding job.”
St. Ives went on to ask that, in addition to having more time to relocate, that the airport help preserve historical items housed inside the Legion building.
“We have insignias, photos, and don’t have a place to put that yet,” he said. “With our membership being as old as they are, old people can do things but it’s harder to move things around. With COVID, we’re having a difficult time making decisions because we can’t get together and don’t want to lose things in the building, like the emblem on the floor… (That’s) a piece of history.”
Cook told St. Ives that the airport will not “come in and bulldoze … without taking (items) out.”
“We will do whatever we can to facilitate this,” Benetti said. “If you need more time (and) we have manpower to help you.”
The airport’s attorney, James Martin, added that the State Historic Preservation Office may also have some say about the Legion building to make sure some of it is preserved.
“I don’t think the building has architectural significance, but the site,” Martin clarified.
The Legion attended the airport’s regular meeting to not only ask for more time before needing to vacate its building, but also to create stronger lines of communication.
“It came to my attention that you’ve had previous conversations with the Legion about leaving that building and most of us were not aware of that,” St. Ives said and explained that until The World’s article came out, most of the members were unaware that they had to move out of the building located at 1421 E. Airport Way in North Bend.
“It was a shock,” St. Ives said.
Legion volunteer, Krystal Hopper, also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, stating that she would like to see better communication between the Legion and the airport.
“The article written was based on communication with you guys and facts that there have been several years of communication,” Hopper said of the upcoming demolition of the Legion building. “I’m curious what happened and moving forward (how) we can have better communication for issues like this.”
She added that if the Legion had known the building was going to be demolished since 2007, “I wouldn’t have spent a lot of resources and people’s money and hours doing improvements to that roof.”
Benetti traced the first conversation back 20 years ago regarding the Legion’s need to move.
“…We replaced the roof at that time (and) made an indication for the Legion to look for another facility because that building would not be able to exist in that place,” he said. “I remember that. We apologize for the misunderstanding, but our director wanted to make it crystal clear and sent a letter. I don’t think there is a rush, but want to make sure you have plenty of time.”
Cook said that a letter was sent to the Legion, but it was returned undelivered. The letter was then posted to the facility’s front door.
Hopper commented that the Legion’s internal communication needs improvement.
“It is an important building and we will work with you,” Benetti said.
After the meeting, Cook expressed that she thought it went well, stating the Legion’s response was what she was looking and hoping for.
“When you put a formal notice out, that’s when you get a formal response,” she said. “People not knowing or wondering if they will be in their facility is not what we’re looking for. We want them to make a plan. That building is dangerous. I won’t go in it.”
She explained that the airport has had asbestos buildings burn down in the past before they had a chance to remove them.
“If that building burned down, it would affect the FedEx cargo facility so we have to limit our liabilities and make sure our other tenants can work in their buildings that are functional… We’ve offered today and in the past to help (the Legion) to get everything out of there that they need.”
Benetti said he hopes there was clarification from the meeting.
“Obviously, they weren’t in the loop with some things,” he said. “But I think we have a good understanding and they understand we will help facilitate them as much as we can. We understand the veterans are important and the building is sacred to them, so it’s something that is emotional…
“We will help them with whatever they need to make the transitions as smooth as possible,” he said.