Hermiston
Watkinds sells Columbia Court Club, opens new business

The Columbia Court Club in Hermiston was severely damaged in a fire in the summer of 2016 and the owner has recently sold the building.

Steve Watkinds knows his new line of business is a little ironic.

Two years after he had to shut down the Columbia Court Club in Hermiston due to a fire, he has sold the building and started a new business inspecting and selling fire extinguishers.

Watkinds didn’t disclose the buyer of the club at 80903 S. Highway 395, but said in the near future they should be announcing plans to renovate and reopen it as a fitness center once again.

The Columbia Court Club served for 38 years as a workout center, gymnasium, indoor track and Hermiston’s only indoor pool, until a fire broke out upstairs in the summer of 2016. The fire, thought to have been started by an electrical short in a power strip, didn’t cause any injuries. But it charred the upper floor of the building and put holes in the ceiling that have since led to further water damage. Smoke, soot, fire-suppression chemicals and two years without heat have made the club’s machines and pumps unusable, and the locker rooms had to be gutted.

Watkinds said he spent two years and thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting with the insurance company. They have finally reached a settlement, he said, but not one that would pay to rebuild everything the club had before, up to current building codes. And once the club opened it would take months of hard work to try and re-attract customers that have been “absorbed into the market” elsewhere.

“I did that once when I was 25 and that was fine, but I’m too old to take on that challenge again,” he said. “I’m going to leave that to the younger generation.”

Instead, Watkinds and former Columbia Court Club manager Mary Marsing have started Fire Pro, a locally owned and operated business that sells and services fire extinguishers. Businesses have requirements to have their extinguishers inspected by a certified professional yearly, and taken apart for a more thorough inspection every six years.

“I noticed most of the area is not serviced by anyone local,” Watkinds said.

He said they are finding “quite a bit of work” already.

“It’s been fun to get out in the community and see people,” Watkinds said. “We used to see a lot of people through the club, and it’s nice to see them again.”

He said when he shows up at businesses they usually ask him about what happened with the fire at the club, and he often shares advice, business owner to business owner, about things he wished he had known before the fire.

“Looking back at my (insurance) policy, there are things I would do different,” he said.

For more information about Fire Pro or to schedule service, call 541-567-9451.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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