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City inherits big clean-up project at abandoned building

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By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

Taking possession of a huge commercial building - the former home to Industrial Skills - presents the city of Enumclaw with some interesting opportunities.

But that's taking the long-term view.

Of immediate interest is the headache that comes with cleaning up, and clearing out, a massive warehouse full of clothes and tools, sporting goods and knick-knacks, kitchen gadgets and assorted junk.

When Industrial Skills ceased operation and abandoned its building on Battersby Avenue, responsibility for the facility landed in the lap of city administration. Overseeing the cleanup of the building is something the city had not anticipated and had not budgeted for. City Administrator Mark Bauer went before members of the City Council Monday night, asking for an appropriation to pay cleanup costs.

The city has always owned the building, but had little day-to-day involvement. The city administered the loan that purchased the building and then leased the facility to Industrial Skills for the token payment of $10 per year. Public money paid for the building, but the city managed the transaction and, thus, legally became the owner.

Over the past couple of years, Industrial Skills fell on hard times. Federal funding was pulled, forcing the board of directors to look elsewhere for funding. Their answer was to ask the city to hand over the keys and transfer ownership to Industrial Skills. A simmering feud existed until Industrial Skills abandoned the building and nearly everything inside.

"We were shocked when we walked inside," Bauer said. The city was aware, from previous visits, that donations had piled up, but the scale of the cleanup project has left Bauer shaking his head. Large, commercial boxes line the warehouse walls, smaller rooms are filled with assorted goods and the thrift shop at the front of the building - which Industrial Skills operated as a revenue-producer - was left intact.

Still in the building are several pieces of heavy-duty commercial mixing equipment, left over from the days when Marie's manufactured salad dressings at the site. A couple of vehicles sitting out front were abandoned, Bauer said.

The city, unprepared to tackle such an undertaking, contacted Northwest Centers, an operation similar to Industrial Skills. Based in Seattle, it turns donations into cash with the goal of serving those with mental and physical disabilities. A two-man crew from Northwest Centers was in Enumclaw last week, fork-lifting boxes in a semi-trailer and hauling stuff to Seattle.

The problem is, they couldn't be sure what they were getting.

The city hopes to solve that problem by contracting with Marilyn Gregg, who operates The Treasure Hunt stores in Enumclaw and Buckley and has handled liquidation projects in the past...though not on the scale of the Industrial Skills cleanup. Her task will be to sort through the accumulated donations, then determine what has value and what is hauled away as garbage.

After a tour of the facility, Gregg estimated it will take 45 days to complete the job. Her educated guess is that 75 percent of the building's contents will be hauled away as trash.

The remainder, Gregg said, will be divided among local non-profit entities.

Some of the old Marie's equipment is now in the hands of Mount Rainier National Bank. Kirk Parce, a loan officer, confirmed the bank has "an interest in some of the equipment," but could not - for confidentiality reasons - explain how the bank came to own the items. How the bank disposes of the equipment, Parce said, "is still in the investigative stage."

Another player in the cleanup process is The Boeing Company. Boeing had contracted with Industrial Skills for some assembly work and dozens of heavy, metal Boeing containers are scattered both inside and outside of the building. The aerospace company is now in the process of retrieving its property.

Bauer said he has received several calls from those interested in either buying the building or leasing space. The city's goal, he said, is to get someone in the facility that creates employment opportunities.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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