Centralia City Council: $100K grant for Wheeler Field, a school board update, and a decision to charge for care of rescued animals

Nov. 20—The many agenda items discussed during last Tuesday's Centralia City Council meeting included the announcement of a $100,000 Washington state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) grant for more projects at Fort Borst Park, a Centralia School Board update and the councilors approving an ordinance allowing the Centralia Police Department to charge for care and veterinary services for animals they have to rescue.

RCO grant

Centralia Deputy City Manager and Parks Director Amy Buckler told the council her staff submitted the RCO grant application back in August. The grants were designated for deferred maintenance projects.

"I'm happy to report Centralia successfully received that $100,000," Buckler said.

She said the grant application process was competitive with the RCO having $5 million total in grant money to distribute while receiving grant applications amounting to more than $18 million in projects from 215 applicants statewide.

"Out of the 215 applicants, only 53 received funds," Buckler added.

The $100,000 will go toward helping pay to replace "a section of badly degraded stadium seating" at Wheeler Field in Borst Park. According to Buckler, the money will also help replace rotten wooden boards around the field, upgrade sinks and toilets in the bathrooms, and denote priority wheelchair seating areas.

"These maintenance projects will collectively restore full use of the facilities and improve safety, enhance the sense of pride in our park system and save us money in the long run," Buckler said.

RCO funds won't be available until next summer. Centralia residents can expect to see the projects completed between July 2024 and June 2025, Buckler said.

Other Fort Borst Park improvement projects are already in motion, including replacing rotting wooden light poles and re-turfing Wheeler Field and the surrounding softball fields.

"I'll be back in December to bring you a recommendation from the Parks Board regarding which fields to turf," Buckler said.

Centralia School Board update

Joined by the two Centralia High School student representatives serving on the Centralia School Board, board member Tim Browning gave the city council an update on the state of the Centralia School District. Despite the two failures to pass a replacement tax levy during special elections held earlier this year, Browning said he is still optimistic about the state of the schools.

"I think this has been an exceptional start to the Centralia school year this year," Browning said. "We have some exciting new faculty members, managers and administrators in the district that really coalesce into a team that is committed to success."

He added new community leadership and personal responsibility programs were being developed, along with other academic aids for students.

Browning said community tours of the school district are now available for those who want to see what's going on. For information about the tours, contact the Centralia School District office at 360-330-7600.

Centralia High School senior and board representative Makenzi Van Der Hoeff gave the council a good idea of what's going on at the school, including keeping students actively engaged with the community, maintaining commitment to academic success and uplifting spirits.

"To sum it up, our goals are really to increase school spirit and pride in being a Tiger and to grow a stronger connection with our community," Van Der Hoeff said.

She added many events this year have been successes, including the recent homecoming game that saw alumni from as far back as 50 years ago attend, with many in attendance saying it was the most packed stadium they had seen in years.

The other student representative, Kycen Donahue, gave the council a rundown of recent athletic, band and club achievements by the students within Centralia School District. When asked what the students needed from the city by Councilor Mark Westley, a former teacher, Donahue said support.

"Mainly it's just a more positive outlook from the community and more support for our kids, especially from people who don't have kids in the community and feel like they don't need to support because they don't have kids," Donahue said.

Police department charging for animal care

Though Lewis County operates its own official animal shelter, it is now only accepting select animals rescued within city limits, Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham told the council. With COVID leading many people stuck at home during the lockdowns to get new pets, Denham said his department is now dealing with an increase in animal issues.

"When COVID was lifted, the pets became a burden, so we saw this explosion of animals coming in or getting out. We've done everything that we can thus far in order to accommodate these animals coming in," Denham said.

With the county's shelter limiting how many animals it accepts from Centralia, the city is now having to temporarily board animals and even pay for veterinary care in some cases, but the department had no way of recovering the cost for that care. Care can be costly, as many of the animals the department picks up are injured or have been abused.

"We had one just recently that was shot," he added.

Thanks to the ordinance the Centralia City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday, Nov. 14, the department can now charge pet owners for the care they have to provide to their animals, animal reclaiming fees and adoption fees to recover costs.

The problem goes beyond just recovering money for the police department, as Denham said his staff has been going up and down Interstate 5 looking for shelters for animals they pick up, even as far north as Seattle.

"They were usually pretty accommodating, but they put on the brakes and said, 'you can't bring them up here because we're too full,'" Denham added.

The department has now set up its own small kennel at its Mellen Street facility to board animals they pick up while on patrol until the animal's owner can be found, a foster home becomes available or the animal can be euthanized if dangerous.

He added the county is working to build a new animal shelter, but like the old shelter, it will only have 16 kennels.

"I do have a meeting coming up with the new county manager ... who from what I can tell at this point is reasonable, and it looks like he is going to have those hard conversations," Denham said.

Lewis County's new shelter is still a couple years out from completion, Denha said.

Currently, the department has six of its own kennels in its Mellen Street facility, but since the building isn't an official shelter, the animals can only stay there temporarily, he added.

Additionally, the department is working on improvements to its own temporary shelter, including getting dog treadmills since many of the officers don't have time to take the dogs out for walks, and is looking for donations toward those treadmills now.

"We're currently looking for volunteers that like working with animals and we could utilize some volunteers to go in and assist with taking care of the animals," Denham said.

Centralia City Attorney Kyle Manley added donations made to the department for its animal shelter are also tax deductible.

For more information and to find out how to donate or volunteer, contact the Centralia Police Department at 360-330-7680.