JUNTURA – Trapped by a booming economy and remote stations, the state Transportation Department is paying more than $800,000 to build two modular homes for its employees in Juntura.

The 1,500-square-foot houses are part of a larger $1.7 million plan to upgrade living facilities at state compounds in Juntura and at the Basque maintenance station. Juntura is 55 miles southwest of Vale. The Basque maintenance station is south of Jordan Valley at Basque.

The two new homes planned for Juntura will feature three bedrooms and two baths, said Tom Strandberg, a spokesman for the Transportation Department in La Grande.

Strandberg said officials plan for both homes – each at a cost of around $425,000 - to be available by fall 2020.

The cost of the two Juntura homes is $284 per square foot - $65 more, or roughly 30%, than the median cost per square foot in the state. Typically, the median price per square foot for a new home in Oregon is $219.

Strandberg said the agency is aware of the high cost of the two homes but blamed a healthy economy and the remoteness of Juntura and Basque Junction.

“We know it’s a problem. We are just seeing a whole lot of increase in costs. Right now, costs are high but a lot of that is due to the economic climate,” said Strandberg.

Strandberg said the transportation department only received one offer when it sought a bid in May for the project.

“We were hopeful we’d get more folks interested but you have to deal with the cards you are dealt,” said Strandberg.

During the second bid in June, NW Legacy Contractors of Ridgefield, Wash., won the contract at a price of $894,002. A second bid on the project was even higher. Phillip Sitz Construction of Hines bid $975,000 to do the work.

Another reason to move ahead was money for the project could evaporate in the future, Strandberg said.

“We kind of have to bite the bullet. The bottom line is we have to provide housing for these employees, otherwise we lose them and then the level of service goes down and people will start getting hurt or be unable to go where they want to as safe as they are now,” said Strandberg.

Other factors increase costs for state projects, said Strandberg.

“People have to consider the funds we have, we have to pay prevailing wages for work done on site so that is a cost that other, or private individuals, may not have to deal with,” said Strandberg.

Finally, he said, location plays a big role.

“They are remote areas. Contractors have a lot of other work to do so when they bid on something, and if they don’t think it is all that lucrative, they bid high. We are seeing high bids on all of our projects,” said Strandberg.

Strandberg said the cost of a comparable home at the transportation department’s Brothers maintenance station expected to be finished this month was $325,385.

At Basque station, the state will build two similar homes to the Juntura structures for a price of $876,000.

The Juntura and Basque maintenance stations play a key role in highway maintenance and snow removal every year, said Strandberg, but housing at both locations is a challenge.

“We can’t hire someone if there is no place for them to live. If we don’t have housing, people won’t take the jobs and we won’t be able to maintain the roads,” said Strandberg. “Basically, there is a need that we have to fulfill,” said Strandberg.

Strandberg said there are now three “livable properties” at the Juntura compound. A fourth modular house there isn’t useable, he said, because it is contaminated by mold.

“We had to move the employee out so they are working out of the Burns facility,” said Strandberg. Burns is 60 miles from Juntura.

Five transportation department employees work out of Juntura.

Strandberg said the modular homes are built “off-site and then put together on site and built to stick-built home standards.”

Reporter Pat Caldwell: pat@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.

Correction: Juntura is southwest of Vale, not southeast as originally listed.

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