Kathi Lively works in the current kitchen at Camp Howard. A planned new dining hall would expand seating and modernize the kitchen. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Kathi Lively works in the current kitchen at Camp Howard. A planned new dining hall would expand seating and modernize the kitchen. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
CORBETT — Before summer sessions started at Camp Howard, a crack appeared in a beam holding up the dining hall. Engineers quickly supported the sagging timber. After all, hundreds of children eat in the lodge daily as part of their experience at Oregon’s Catholic summer camp.

But Sister Krista von Borstel, executive director of CYO/Camp Howard, frets over how much longer the 64-year-old wood building can last.   

“The time has come,” said Sister Krista, a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon who last year launched a capital campaign to construct a new lodge. “This dining hall has seen its day. I want to be done with it before it becomes an issue.”

In the most ambitious project to date at the venerable 240-acre camp in the Cascade foothills, donors have pledged $3 million, but $900,000 more is needed as prices rise in Oregon’s hot construction market. 

Joe Weston, a Catholic philanthropist, gave $1 million for a new dining hall and an anonymous donor came through with $500,000 last year.

The next most expensive project at the camp — covered basketball courts completed in 2014 — cost $600,000.

“This is a heavy lift,” says Sister Krista. “We are thrilled to be this far and want to get to the finish line.”

She and the CYO/Camp Howard board decided to proceed with a September groundbreaking, figuring that without signing a contract and digging in, costs would just keep rising. Plans call for completion by fall 2018 — provided that funds come through.

Todd Construction, which was general contractor for the University of Portland library renovation, has been chosen for the project.

About three years ago, an inspection team from A.C. Schommer and Sons found problems in the old dining hall’s rafters and significant wood rot. The building had been constructed on cement piers instead of a foundation. The camp faced the possibility of paying a lot to fix a building that served well for decades but that is too small for what the camp has become. Many campers eat in tents during the summer.

“It is really overdue,” says Laurie Kelley, a member of the capital campaign committee. “We are struggling to finish it. Construction just costs more than you’d think and we still have a gap to make up.”

Kelley had two daughters attend Camp Howard. One became a teacher and says she found her calling at camp.

“We want camp to continue for a long time and to serve generations to come,” says Kelley, president and chief development officer for Providence Foundations in Oregon.

The old dining hall will be razed. To cut costs, kitchen gear and furniture will be moved from the old building to the new. Other money-saving measures are being considered, such as a composition roof instead of a metal roof and a delay in an outdoor fireplace.

Set on a bluff, the new building will face 11,000-foot Mount Hood and will feature a vista of the Bull Run Canyon, with the river 600 feet below. The main hall will seat 320 diners indoors. In addition, there will be outdoor tables, some covered, for 200 more people. The lodge will have a more spacious kitchen. More food storage will mean that staff won’t need to make frequent trips away from camp for supplies.

Henry Fitzgibbon, a member of St. John Fisher Parish and a principal at Soderstrom Architects, designed the lodge to bring indoors and outdoors together. He included a large deck and plenty of windows that open.    

Fitzgibbon, who attended Camp Howard as a boy, is excited to see construction start and is even more keen to see the faces of campers when they enter the lodge for the first time.

The building will have a distinct Northwest design, with heavy timber columns.

The new lodge also will make the camp better for outdoor school and other rental groups, said Ed Kluss, chairman of the CYO/Camp Howard executive board.

“The kitchen is really what’s holding back the number of people who can participate in camp at a given time,” said Kluss. “We have more beds than the kitchen can accommodate.”

Kluss, a banker, is confident that funding will come through. The new lodge, he explained, helps with the mission of creating opportunity for youths to enjoy the great outdoors.