The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

Take time to understand the age of Ritzville's infrastructure


Last updated 3/1/2012 at Noon

Ritzville is aging. To the point where major investments will likely be needed in order to continue delivering critical services to residents. The current economic conditions of the state and nation don’t make this a good time to be facing major investments. We can all expect to be asked to help pay for these improvements.

Two agencies are planning critical town hall meetings. You should make plans to attend them. Each meeting will deliver valuable information about the condition of two extremely important pieces of infrastructure: the city’s domestic water system and East Adams Rural Hospital.

City water system

The City of Ritzville’s two primary wells are 40 and 54 years of age. Both wells are limping.

Well No. 8, the city’s highest volume water producing well, has cost the city countless thousands of dollars in recent years just to keep it functioning. The pump was replaced in 2011 and the well’s production fell by 200 gallons per minute. The well has a history of repeated pump and electrical problems.

The Koch well, a gray-haired, over worked 54-year-old, gave the city a scare last year when it began sucking air. As a result it was shut down in 2011.

A significant portion of the water mains used to deliver water to your homes and businesses are even older and leaking. The water mains in Ritzville are leaking significantly, more than twice the amount the Department of Ecology considers acceptable.

The city has the opportunity to accept $5 million in loans to drill a new well and replace 10,000 lineal feet of leaky water mains. The downside is that users will bare the cost over time for the improvements through increases in their utility bills.

Ritzville’s water system is part of the city’s central nervous system. Without fresh water rolling to your homes, your toilets won’t flush, your grass will not green and boiling water for macaroni and cheese will be difficult since the kitchen faucet will have run dry.

It could be argued major water system improvements were needed 25 or more years ago. Those days have come and gone and the city council today is faced with fixing the problem before the system fails. We will all need to work together.

When they host a town hall meeting Tuesday, March 13, at 6 p.m., you need to be in the audience. You need to be proactive and educated about the situation and the options.

Critical Access Rural Hospital

Adams County Memorial Hospital was opened in 1952. In 1991, the facility’s name was changed to East Adams Rural Hospital to reflect the people it serves. Those people live in the 1,500 square miles that make up the eastern portion of the county and encompasses the communities of Lind, Ritzville and Washtucna.

There’s documentation that indicates since the mid-1980s the district’s leadership has been wrestling with balancing its desire to be conservative in spending with the growing need for major renovations and a remodel of the physical hospital.

Fast forward to 2007 when an outside firm conducted a mechanical engineering assessment and determined then the building’s critical systems, including electrical, plumbing and heating were are risk of failure. In 2007, the report said $5.5 million in upgrades were needed to simply keep the existing facility operational.

There have been numerous starts and stops on exploring a plan to completely remodel the hospital or construct a new one.

Last September and October, the condition of the infrastructure worsened when an inspection of the boiler system determined a boiler was unsafe to operate. Today a temporary, rented boiler is stationed outside the building.

Hospitals are highly regulated and monitored by state and federal agencies. Those agencies have patiently allowed the district to operate with an old facility that doesn’t meet today’s codes and standards.

Taking the boiler offline for safety reasons opened an aging can of worms. The state’s Department of Health and the Washington State Patrol’s Office of the State Fire Marshal have exercised their right to inspect the hospital district and the boiler situation.

The result was the state’s discovery the emergency electrical systems are substandard and must be replaced. The system operates the emergency generator in the event of a power outage.

Last Thursday, the hospital district’s commissioners voted to move forward with the purchase of a new generator and a new boiler. The emergency electrical system and generator will cost $450,000 to $750,000 alone.

They also elected to plan a community town hall meeting, the date is to be determined. The meeting will serve as an opportunity to demonstrate for citizens the condition of the existing hospital. Commissioners will most likely be compelled to make a major investment in the existing facility to placate state agencies. Or, they will need to build a new hospital. Or, they may have to do both.

There are many facets of the facility beyond their expected lifespan and they need to be replaced or upgraded. The challenge is the presence of asbestos, which was used throughout the building when it was originally constructed.

Modern code requirements will likely force the abatement of the asbestos, which will come at a major expense.

What will ultimately happen is yet unknown. The town hall meeting will be your chance to learn the specifics of the hospital’s facility crisis and the options for preserving 24-hour healthcare in the eastern portion of Adams County.

Stay tuned and mark your calendars. These are two town hall meetings you should not miss.


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