Amtrak officials detail historic depot’s restoration

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SANDPOINT — With plans moving along for the Sandpoint Depot restoration, Amtrak officials say the historic structure’s future is back on track.

Rob Eaton, director of Amtrak government affairs in the Pacific Northwest, visited Sandpoint Tuesday to give a rundown of the anticipated station improvements. Necessities like a new roof and structural improvements will be balanced with convenience and accessibility features, Eaton said.

Throughout negotiations with BNSF Railway, which owns the facility, several key design points emerged for the project. First, the building’s east side doors will blocked off from passenger use. Meanwhile, the entrance on the building’s south side will receive a new door. The asphalt platform on the building’s east side will be removed and replaced with a ballast, and safety fencing will be installed on the east side of the station.

Fortunately for the depot, installation of a second set of tracks will not be part of the deal. It’s still a feature that BNSF wants to see in the future. However, the $300,000 cost will not eat into the almost-$1 million Idaho Transportation Department gave BNSF during Sand Creek Byway negotiations to move operations or restore established facilities.

“It’s not going to be there, but we have to plan for it — we have to design for it,” Eaton said.

Several major improvements are expected for the building’s exterior. These include a replacement of the entire roof with composite shingles. All the sheathing and underlayment will be replaced, as will defective rafters and trusses. The same goes for facia boards, drip edges, gutters and downspouts. Repairs to the ceiling and roof jointing will occur as necessary. Meanwhile, the brick walls, gables, chimney parapets and embattlements will be repaired and repointed.

A portion of the brick wall on the building’s west side will be demolished to make way for a new ADA-compliant door with side lights. Eaton said he understands the word “demolish” makes people nervous, but he assured attendees that all alterations will match the building’s character as closely as possible.

“There’s going to be some changes that have to be done, but it will all be within the historic realm,” he said.

Other changes to doors and windows include cleaned and repainted frames and doors, a smaller waiting room and a unisex restroom with push-activator entry. The trackside entrance to the BNSF office will be filled in as a window and wall.

Restoration efforts for the interior will be just as thorough. The plaster finish on the ceiling and walls, terrazzo flooring in the waiting room and women’s restroom — soon to be the new unisex restroom — will be repaired, restored and renovated. New, energy-efficient lighting will be installed throughout the interior.

Infrastructure upgrades are a major part of the project. A modern HVAC system will replace the oil-burning furnace and could potentially melt snow on the platform in the future. All the plumbing will be replaced, and the electrical system will likely be overhauled as well. The exterior will also receive some modernized lighting.

Finally, Amtrak will be installing a new, ADA-compliant platform at the station — an improvement that will be funded through federal dollars and not the restoration fund. Other changes to the exterior include demolishing the abandoned BNSF transmission tower and asphalt area north of the building, installing a railing fence, repairing the wall brick and pavers near the road, improving lighting near the building drip line and making parking ADA-compliant.

The design contract is still out to bid, Eaton said, but one design proposal is being evaluated for technical merit. Assuming all goes well, the designer will be announced within a week or two, he added. The qualified firm is expected to hold meetings for community input into the design as work progresses.

Finally, a construction contractor will be selected around late April. Work is expected to begin sometime late spring or early summer. During construction, travelers will still be able to use the platform and catch their train.

After work is complete later in the year, the Sandpoint Depot will still be an unstaffed stop, but the facility will be open for people to wait — good news for those with chilly winter itineraries.

The ultimate goal is to craft a depot that honors Sandpoint’s history while providing convenience for the many local train travelers, Eaton said. Last year, the depot charted 9,100 riders, an increase of almost 5,000 since 2004. Based on that activity, Sandpoint stands to remain a train town — with the restored depot bridging the gap between past and future.

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