Baker Technical Institute has been awarded a $500,000 federal grant for its Brownfields Program to continue work to clean up the historic Central School building in Baker City.
The grant award was discussed during a half-hour conference call Thursday that included representatives of BTI, members of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 Brownfields Team, Oregon Business and the local media.
BTI was represented by its president, Doug Dalton, and Sandy Mitchell, marketing coordinator. Dalton explained how BTI, a career and technical training center that is part of Baker High School, developed its Brownfields Program.
What began as an environmental science class with an emphasis on cleaning polluted properties in Baker City about six years ago has developed into a nationally recognized program.
It now includes a partnership with Eastern Oregon University, which will begin offering a Sustainable Rural Systems degree to its students in September, Dalton said.
Science teacher Robbie Langrell oversees the BTI program.
“Students who were here at the time helped write this grant and led community meetings,” Dalton said. “Now with the EOU partnership, we’re looking at other projects in the Eastern Oregon community.”
The $500,000 EPA grant to BTI, most of which will be used to clean up contaminants at the former Central School building at 2425 Washington Ave., built in 1917, was one of five grants totaling $2.65 million awarded to Oregon communities.
Most of the contamination at the site consists of materials used to construct the building, such as asbestos and lead-based paint, with some amount of PCB in light fixtures, Dalton said.
The money also will be used for community outreach activities to help determine a future use for the building. Both high school and college students will participate with project consultants in that work, Dalton said.
Tim Hamlin is the director of the EPA’s Region 10 Land Chemicals and Redevelopment Division, which includes Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Alaska and has its headquarters in Seattle. Hamlin also attended Thursday’s meeting by telephone.
Hamlin said the goal is to clean up and redevelop properties, which leads to job development and economic development in communities.
“The core objective is to put buildings and land where contamination is found back into productive use,” he said.
Hamlin noted that grants are awarded through a very competitive application process.
The BTI grant was among 155 awarded nationwide in 151 communities totalling more than $65.6 million in EPA brownfields funding through the Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund and Cleanup Grant Programs.
Terri Griffith, a Brownfield Project manager for EPA’s Region 10, said the community involvement aspect of the Central Building cleanup project helped BTI’s grant application do well in the competitive process.
“It’s great redevelopment for the community and the level of community engagement is quite strong,” Griffith said.
That the building already has been through preliminary assessment and will soon be ready to go forward with the cleanup process also gained the application favor from reviewers.
“The engagement with students is a strong component as well, and the tie-in with economic development,” Griffith said. “Overall it really measured up well with the grant criteria.”
Dalton expressed appreciation to Business Oregon, which provided grant funding for the earlier assessment of the Central Building. Karen Homolac, brownfields specialist for Business Oregon, also attended Thursday’s meeting telephonically.
Dalton said he expects the actual cleanup of the historic building to begin in the fall of 2021.
“When you use students it does change things a little bit,” Dalton said.
Last spring, Baker School Superintendent Mark Witty appointed a six-member community group to help support the cleanup and restoration effort.
“We view this grant as being the pivotal piece that gets this project going for real,” Dalton said.