SHOSHONE — Local district officials from the Idaho Transportation Department presented a proposal Thursday to build a new District Four administrative building to replace its deteriorating 61-year-old building in Shoshone.
The plan proposes to construct the new ITD district headquarters at its existing location in Shoshone or a new location in either Jerome or Twin Falls, which a report seemed to favor because of the benefits a more cosmopolitan location would afford ITD employees. The option to move ITD’s district operations to one of the bigger cities was met with resistance from Lincoln County and Shoshone officials.
“I would hope ITD board members would have an open mind and an open heart, and in this equation they do what’s best for Lincoln County, as well,” Lincoln County Commissioner Cresley McConnell said. “Losing ITD from Shoshone would be a devastating detriment to Lincoln County and the surrounding counties.”
District Four Engineer Devin Rigby presented the proposal to the seven-member Idaho Transportation Board during its annual visit to the Magic Valley. On Wednesday, the board toured parts of the district, visiting Twin Falls, Burley and Declo, and on Thursday the board held its monthly meeting where Rigby presented the proposal.
The 29-page “District 4 Administrative Building Report” combined information gathered from three feasibility studies conducted in 2002, 2005 and 2007. The report concluded that remodeling the existing administrative building would be too expensive, and it would be more cost efficient to construct a new building than to lease.
The study pinpointed four potential locations to build a new office building: the existing location in Shoshone; Jerome County, off U.S. 93 just north of Interstate 84; downtown Jerome at Lincoln Avenue and Main Street; or Twin Falls at Addison Avenue and Blue Lakes Boulevard North.
The report estimated that constructing a new building at the existing Shoshone site would cost about $3.76 million, while constructing a new building at one of the Jerome or Twin Falls sites would cost about $3.94 million.
But the slightly higher cost to build in Jerome or Twin Falls would be off-set, the report concluded, by factors like a deeper potential employee pool and a shorter travel distance for the majority of employees. Of 58 employees, 24 are from Twin Falls County.
“The conclusions are inescapable, even for one as sympathetic to rural Idaho as the author,” wrote project manager Michael Scott. “By moving the D4 Headquarters south from Shoshone to the outskirts of Jerome or into Twin Falls, the number of potential applicants for replacement jobs in the targeted occupations used by D4 HQ rises by five to six times. The number of total workers within a 30 minute commute rises over three times.”
The Twin Falls option or either Jerome location also offer “qualitative improvements in lifestyle that will appeal to younger and more urban-oriented applicants,” the report said.
Those improvements include better access to shopping, services, health care, higher education, transportation, cultural and entertainment events, water recreation and “possibly better or more divers K-12 education options.”
Moving the headquarters to Jerome or Twin Falls would also cut down slightly on the average number of miles employees drove to work, the report found. At the existing location, employees drive an average of 24.2 miles to work. If the building was moved to Jerome, the average would drop to 22.5, and in Twin Falls it would drop to 21.8.
“A location south and east of Jerome would be a preferred location for an administrative office,” the report concluded. “It would provide the best locational option from an employee travel perspective.”
Lincoln County, Shoshone officials resist move
Commissioner McConnell and Shoshone Councilwoman Tammy Swaner told the transportation board they understood the findings of the report, but urged the board to keep its district headquarters in Shoshone. They expressed concern over the potential economic impact to the city and county.
The report found that moving the headquarters out of Shoshone would come at an economic loss of $250,000 to Lincoln County.
“That’s a big effect to our community,” Swaner said. “I want to stress the importance of your people; $250,000 is important to our community.”
Shoshone Interim Police Chief Rene Rodriguez, who won the Republican primary earlier this year for Lincoln County sheriff, said he sees both sides of the argument but called ITD’s economic impact “very big on a small community.”
Dwight Horsch, the board member from District Five in the southeastern corner of the state, summed up the fears of city and county officials. He said he lives in a small town that was recently devastated by the loss of a large employer.
“The fact you need a new building, I have no problem with that, I think that decision is fairly easy for me,” Horsch said. “But I have to admit, I’m a small-town guy and I don’t think everything has to move to Mecca. I really don’t. And if there’s a way we can analyze how the impact on Shoshone and Lincoln County can be minimized, that would ease my anxiety in that regard.”
Another board member, Lee Gagner, assured the city and county officials they would not make a “heartless decision.”
“We all feel very strongly about small communities; most of us came from small communities,” Gagner said. “We are asked to make some very tough decisions, and a lot of the time we have to base them on facts. But we are not heartless in terms of giving consideration to a place like Shoshone.”
A spokesman for ITD said Rigby, the district engineer, will meet with city and county officials in coming weeks to discuss the different options. There will also be an open period for public comment.
A final decision on where to construct the new building is expected in November.