Public Service Center use to be curtailed

Non-county groups will be barred from after-hours use

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Weekend legislative town halls and non-county-related evening meetings will soon be a thing of the past at the Clark County Public Service Center.

In light of security concerns, the Board of County Commissioners last week approved a new policy for the six-story building, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

Instead of opening up the building to any nonprofit organization — or, as was the case March 10, 49th District lawmakers wanting to host a town hall — in the evenings and weekends, the building will now only be available for county-sponsored events, such as planning commission meetings.

Vancouver has the same policy for City Hall.

Outside groups will be encouraged to meet at the Vancouver Community Library or smaller county-owned properties, such as the Heritage Farm in Hazel Dell, said Mark McCauley, director of general services.

Clark County Administrator Bill Barron said he anticipates the new policy will be effective May 1.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office will also expand its contract with McRoberts Protective Agency, which provides security next door at the Clark County Courthouse, to have private, uniformed security officers do an evening sweep of the building.

Commissioners were told last week the added security will likely cost between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.

The Public Service Center is open to the public 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

An increase in the number of homeless people being caught in the building outside of posted hours has prompted the additional security.

McCauley said county staff members, some of whom report to work at 7 a.m., have been reporting finding homeless people in restrooms or waiting areas.

Homeless people frequently sleep on chairs in waiting areas and use restrooms, and are welcome to do so between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

McCauley said he doesn’t have evidence that homeless people have actually spent the night in the building. He said they may be entering the building before 8 a.m. through the Dragonfly Café, a ground-floor restaurant that opens at 6:30 a.m. But there’s a concern that when the building is open at night for meetings people might find a way to stay inside.

In 2010, nonprofit social services provider Share Inc. had to close its Share Outreach facility, a pair of double-wide trailers across from the main Share House overnight shelter at 1115 W. 13th St. In the trailers, homeless people could take showers and get other daytime services. At the time, Share officials predicted the closure would mean homeless people would be more visible in downtown Vancouver.

That could partially explain the increase, McCauley said. The cold weather also drives people indoors.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve got to do this,” McCauley said.

As part of the new policy, the elevators will not operate until 7:45 a.m.

Last year, the county closed the stairwell to the public as a security measure.

Among nonprofit organizations, the Girl Scouts and cultural groups were the primary users of the building. They will be notified of the change in policy, McCauley said.

McCauley said the county has also been working with custodians to keep them from propping open doors for the sake of convenience.

Homeless people have not caused any property damage, McCauley said. The only added cost to date has been cleaning upholstery.

Under the proposed contract with McRoberts Protective Agency, officers will sweep the building between 6:30 and 7:45 a.m. and then between 5 and 6 p.m.

On evenings when county groups have meetings, a security guard will be in the building until 30 minutes after the meeting ends.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.