Save Our Station organization formed
Group hopes to save Cheney’s 85-year-old Northern Pacific depot from demolition
A group of Cheney residents are getting together to send an SOS to the community.
SOS as in “Save Our Station,” a private sector, grassroots effort to save Cheney’s former Northern Pacific train station from an approaching wrecking ball. The group held a preliminary meeting Tuesday, April 15 and is planning a public meeting Thursday, May 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Cheney library meeting room to discuss larger plans.
The current owners of the station built in 1929, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, have applied for a demolition permit with the city. The application’s comment period ended April 3, and a final State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has been issued, listing mitigation measures the railroad must take before tearing down the structure.
Those measures include providing a Level 2 historical documentation report on the structure as well as salvaging and donating historic materials and inventorying building contents should a preservation effort not materialize. That effort stepped forward March 31 when the city received an offer from Dr. Peter Hansen to donate three lots along First Street if the city would come up with relocation funding.
The price tag for that came to $415,200, an amount the City Council balked at during their April 8 meeting, deciding to pass on the offer. The consensus among members was the city doesn’t have the money to spare on such a restoration effort.
“That council meeting took me by surprise,” Cheney resident Bonnie Eccles said.
Eccles understands the city’s funding limitations, but felt there should have been more desire to at least look at options for saving the station. After the meeting she decided to make a few calls.
Councilman John Taves met with the SOS group at their original meeting as a private citizen and advisor. Taves said the first steps being taken are attempts to contact BNSF and let them know a station preservation effort is underway with the hopes the railroad won’t continue to proceed with the demolition permit.
Cheney senior planner Brett Lucas said the railroad has the final SEPA determination, and it’s up to them to take the next step, which would be to conduct the Level 2 report before obtaining a permit.
“I have not heard if they plan to move forward with that or not,” Lucas wrote in an email.
The purpose of the May 1 meeting is to determine how much community interest there is for saving the station, and finding more volunteers to help with the effort, as well as plan any next steps. The station was built at the request of Cheney mayor and future Washington governor Clarence Martin, and was the point of entry for people coming to Cheney until passenger service ceased in 1971, including incoming Eastern Washington college students who would exit the station and walk up College Avenue to the school, passing through the Showalter Hall pillars.
Its Spanish Mission Revival style is rare for train stations built in the Pacific Northwest. Its three main areas — express and baggage area, ticket office and waiting room — are under a tiled roof, stucco veneer with round-arched openings.
Taves said they hope to present a detailed plan outline to BNSF, showing steps to preserve the station, possibly pushing back any final decision for perhaps a year.
“We would like to have a fairly fleshed out proposal for them to review in 1-2 months,” he said.
Part of that is funding and location. Taves said he urged the group to consider all possibilities regarding location, and not just fixate on the First Street properties Hansen owns.
That might help reduce the estimated relocation costs. According to the city’s presentation, the cost for moving the depot is $113,500 of the $415,200 total. The rest involves demolishing the First Street buildings, which could contain asbestos and possibly require hazardous waste mitigation measures and other unknowns and contingencies.
Saving the station will also require novel approaches in funding. Taves said there might be opportunities for Hansen to help out here too, as well as BNSF and other parties to create a “win-win-win with the city, citizens and the railroad.”
“We’ve got big hurdles to jump,” Eccles said.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.