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A dream now becoming reality

Pieces to move the historic Cheney railroad depot are beginning to fall into place


Last updated 4/25/2019 at 11:03pm

What started as a desperate dream of salvation over five years ago is fast approaching a reality for Cheney residents and others seeking to preserve the former Northern Pacific Railroad depot.

In an April 18 interview, new Cheney Depot Society president John Taves said the pieces necessary for moving the 92-year-old train station are beginning to fall into place. Those include overtures from the building’s current owner, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, that if completed, could lead the former terminus to taking up residency on 1st Street later this summer.

“This is going to happen quickly,” Taves said.

The first piece is the Depot Society has returned a pair of signed contracts of conveyance to BNSF to assume ownership of the depot, and has also purchased an insurance policy to cover its upcoming move. The policy is good for up to $4 million for single incident liability and $6 million total coverage.

“We’re sending a $2,300 check,” Taves said. “They’re (BNSF) not liable for anything.

As the second piece, the Depot Society has sent a temporary occupancy permit application for BNSF officials to sign that will allow the group’s architect to enter the building and prepare plans and specifications for its removal from its current location along the railroad tracks southeast of ADM Mills.

Taves said they are currently lining up a contractor capable of moving the depot, in two or possible three pieces. The non-profit organization has bids ranging from $60,000 — $120,000 to move the depot that also cover removing the building’s slab foundation and filling it with gravel.

The third piece is that the owner of one of the two parcels tabbed as the depot’s future home, Gary Geschke and his partners at Sunshine Investments, have arranged to have the Depot Society receive the donated property at 1st and Union streets. Sunshine agreed to donate the land at roughly the same time in October 2016 that the Depot Society was successful in bidding to acquire land next door at 1st and I streets for the depot.

The caveat, Taves said, is they can’t have the property until BNSF signs off on the other contracts.

“We have to demonstrate that we will actually be able to get the property before we get his (Geschke’s) contract,” Taves added.

Regarding the I Street property, Taves said they had an asbestos company assess the house located there for possible contamination, and found that just 240 square feet of space — one bedroom — contained the hazardous substance. The asbestos was professionally removed and disposed of at a cost of about $3,000, clearing the way for the building’s destruction via a controlled, fire practice burn on May 15.

The fifth piece of the puzzle is the fate of a $366,000 grant the Depot Society received in August 2018 from the Washington State Historical Society’s Heritage Capital Projects Advisory Panel. The grant is contingent upon the state Legislature approving the program’s $9.98 million funding request, something Taves said the Senate chamber did in full but the House did only partially.

If the House version of the funding prevails, Cheney will likely lose the grant funding. Taves said that currently it appeared that the Senate version was getting more support.

It’s a key element of not only the relocation of the depot but also its future use. The $366,000 would be combined with other monies the Depot Society has raised, and would go toward a match that former Cheney resident Dr. Peter Hansen said in 2015 he would provide to help with the relocation efforts.

Hansen said he would match every dollar raised up to $500,000.

“The good news is Peter is keeping his match offer up, and has done so each year,” Taves said.

Efforts to save the depot began after the City Council passed on a chance to have the city save the building from destruction in April 2014.

The Northern Pacific Depot was built in 1927 at the request of former Washington governor and Cheney Mayor Clarence Martin. According to application information, Martin wanted the city to have “a respectable looking depot.”

The building was unique to train depot styles in the northern United States at the time, incorporating a Spanish-style architecture. The National Parks Service determined in 1990 that the building was eligible for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places, but it was not listed at the request of the building owner.

Taves said they Depot Society is also working on arrangements to provide the materials to transform the new site of the depot into one more accessible by the public. Part of that plan is to raise the ground level of properties to the same grade as 1st Street.

“There are a lot of pieces coming together,” Taves said.

John McCallum can be reached at


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