by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he purported potential sale of the county's much maligned and soooo-'70s health building seems to OD on short-sightedness. And while it makes for some great gossip, the director of the Regional Health District, Dr. Kim Marie Thorburn, thinks there's serious substance to the rumors.
The story persists that mega-developer Marshall Chesrown recently had a talk with County Commissioner Todd Mielke. Chesrown's trendy Kendall Yards project is set to transform the north bank of the Spokane River just below the rounded-over and odd-looking health building, which appears to be an homage to the essence of Barry Manilow and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Chesrown mentioned in passing that if the health building were ever up for sale, to let him know.
Cut to: After years of negotiation, the health district and the county agree to renew the lease. Projects on hold during the lease negotiations -- such as fixing the leaking roof and installing a flagpole -- move forward. Federal qualifications for labs and workers (post-9/11 requirements) are secured. Yet at the ceremony to dedicate the flagpole last month, Mielke pulls Thorburn aside for a quick word.
"I just want you to know, we are talking about selling the building," Thorburn says Mielke told her. "My recollection is, he said Chesrown probably wanted to tear it down. From several standpoints, this makes no sense for the taxpayer."
Thorburn says she has had several follow-up conversations with Mielke about the prospect of a sale, "And each time, he says, 'It's preliminary. It's preliminary.'" Mielke has said in recent days that there is no proposal to sell the building. Chesrown's people have said the same thing.
But Thorburn says her suspicions are raised when "a week ago last Friday these strange men in dark suits were walking around taking pictures of the building."
The men told a health district staffer that "We're here because someone is thinking about remodeling the building," Thorburn says.
The irony for Thorburn is that the health district should own the building outright after paying $2.8 million to pay off the initial federal grant that -- in conjunction with state money and a county bond -- funded construction back in the Mod Squad era.
Because of apparent oversight, Thorburn says, "It was never written into the original lease that when the bond was paid off, it would become the health district's building."
In recent years, some county commissioners, such as John Roskelley, have tried to sell the building to the health district, Thorburn says. "Phil Harris brings up all the time that Washington law says local public health is a county function and that they could pass a resolution to make us a county department."
That was tried once in 1996, she says, and failed miserably.
The health district works with the state department of health and the federal Centers for Disease Control, dealing with health issues for low-income families ranging from anthrax to West Nile virus.
"It wouldn't be easy to recreate this building for us. The current lease says we get 18 months' notice," Thorburn says.