JOHN DAY - Grant County leaders hope to unwrap their first Christmas present in December by opening a telecommunications center, a remote employment site that aims to provide local jobs via the Internet.

"We're still looking at about Christmas time for completion on it," Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds said.

The telecommunications center, or "telecenter," received seed money from a federal pass-through grant of $75,000 facilitated by the Oregon Office of Energy. The grant will pay for remodeling the inside of this building and for office furnishings.

The telecenter may pave the way for other remote worksites. Already, a Burns company wants to install a medical transcriptionist business in the community, Reynolds announced. The company hopes to employ 10 people, five in each county. Those workers could fill nearly half of the dozen or so spaces that will be available to employers. An agreement has not been developed.

"It's a demonstration site," Reynolds said. "It hopefully will demonstrate to outside employers that Grant County has the ability to perform telecommunication work on a remote basis."

Under an agreement with the county, each employer who agrees to locate workers in the building will pay a rate based on square footage.

First, however, the building needs to be completed. The telecenter, located on the corner of a lot east of John Day City Hall, recently has resembled more of a demolition site than a future Internet work link. Contractor Mike Becker of La Grande removed walls between defunct motel units and adjusted wall supports, a project that left the parking area of this lot littered with concrete and wood.

The renovation sparked questions of why the county didn't simply raze the old motel units and start new.

"The problem is, had we built new, we would have had to comply with the current setbacks," Reynolds explained.

Building new would have meant a total demolition of the motel unit and laying of a foundation in a new location. By renovating the existing building, the county was able to work under grandfathered setback standards and not lose space to buffers along the property boundaries, Reynolds said. This meant a more flexible use of space for housing both the telecenter and the Grant County Food Bank, which is expected to occupy part of the former motel unit.

Also, new construction would have exceeded the $250,706 budget of grants that the county and a consultant compiled to avoid seeking tax dollars, Reynolds noted.

Renovation of this 50-year-old motel unit required the contractor to demolish many of the interior and exterior walls, remove roofing material, replace window frames, install new door studs, re-insulate walls and ceiling and upgrade wiring and heating. Each motel room came with an individual restroom, and each of those restrooms had to be removed to allow for installation of a single facility that complies with access requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The L Building will open with one male and female bathroom facility. The telecenter will open with a unisex bathroom.

Also scheduled for a grand opening are the combined offices of the Grant County Center for Human Development and the Grant County Health Department. These agencies will move into the former Forest Service office. Budget for this main building's renovation is $388,928.

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