OROFINO — Don Jenni marveled at the new digs for employees of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest’s North Fork Ranger District during an open house tour of the office building Thursday.

The Orofino resident and retired wildlife biologist for the district worked at a variety of offices during his career. When he first started his job in 1965, district employees were strewn across several offices in downtown Orofino. The employees were later consolidated in a single, roomy building along U.S. Highway 12 that also housed the headquarters for the Clearwater National Forest.

In October, district employees moved into a new and much more cozy office adjacent to the old one.

“Oh God, I can’t believe it,” Jenni said. “It’s really scaled down in size.”

The smaller footprint is the point, said North Fork District Ranger Andrew Skowlund. The 8,072-square-foot building provides work space for about 50 employees. The old office was nearly 30,000 square feet and had room for 100 or more people.

But times have changed, especially in the past five years. In 2014, the Clearwater and Nez Perce national forests were consolidated into a single unit. At the same time, the headquarters for the combined forests was moved to Kamiah. That left much fewer employees in the old building.

When the federal government’s long-term lease was up, agency officials, following government rules, decided they should move into a smaller, more efficient space. The agency solicited lease agreements and signed a contract with Wiggen & Torgerson of Kalispell, Mont., to construct a new office. The company, which also built and owned the old office, will lease the new office and remodeled warehouse space to the agency under a 20-year agreement that has an opt-out clause for the agency after 15 years. The government will pay $383,560 per year for the building.

“The new facility better suits the needs of a ranger district office,” said Skowlund. “It’s modern and energy efficient. We continue to be located right on Highway 12, which provides easy access and visibility for the public and for people visiting the Clearwater Valley and national forest lands.”

Although the lease would allow the agency to move again in as few as 15 years, Skowlund predicted the building will be home for his district for much longer.

“I couldn’t reasonably foresee us after 15 years saying, ‘Oh, we need a new building.’ (The lease) just allows us at that 15-year mark to renegotiate the lease, so if for some reason the needs have changed in that time and we need to make alterations to terms of the lease, at that time we can do that.”

Forest Service officials are making plans to have a new supervisor’s office and headquarters constructed at Kamiah, under a similar long-term lease arrangement.

In 2007, the agency moved out of its leased office in Grangeville and into a brand-new leased facility there that served as the headquarters for the Nez Perce National Forest for a short time. The government is paying $741,000 per year for the 24,500-square-foot building and about 8,000-square-foot warehouse space. When the Nez Perce and Clearwater forests were consolidated, some of the employees who worked in the new Grangeville office were relocated to Kamiah, but other employees continue to work there.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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