Newspaper Breaks Ground on New Office Building in Camarillo, Calif.

Apr. 20--Nearly one year after plans were announced, ground was broken Wednesday to launch construction of the The Star's new offices in Camarillo.

In a parking lot festooned with blue and white balloons, silver shovels, welcome signs and a skip loader, a crowd of about 200 civic boosters, government officials and newspaper employees applauded as symbolic chunks of earth were turned for the 52,000-square-foot structure that is expected to be completed this fall. Soaring construction materials costs forced design changes that delayed the project six months, but the crowd was told it will be worth the wait.

The $9 million building is to be a state-of-the-art information center.

"I don't want Camarillo to be mistaken. You may think that you're getting the newspaper moving to Camarillo," said Tim Gallagher, The Star's president and publisher. "No. You're getting an information company. Where this company is going and changing over the next few years is going to be so exciting, so exhilarating. Whatever information we have, we're going to be covering it in depth, we're still going to be doing a heck of a lot of explaining and we're going to be pushing it all out of this building in a lot of ways."

The ceremony included a blessing of the 12-acre construction site by Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, an elder of the Chumash Indian tribe.

She used native herbs, nuts, beads and shells in the ritual and led guests in singing. Columnist Colleen Cason suggested including the ancient ritual, Gallagher said.

Plans to move the newspaper and most of its more than 400 employees to Camarillo from its longtime home in Ventura have been considered for nearly a decade, Gallagher said, primarily to centralize production and distribution.

Camarillo Mayor Mike Morgan said the city has eagerly anticipated the move.

"This is a beautiful day. I call it a Camarillo day," Morgan said. "Thank you for coming here and being part of our city. It's about time you came to the center of the county."

Designed by Ventura architect Neal K. Subic, the structure will be built in the Spanish mission-era style seen throughout Camarillo. Glass will make up much of its front facade with the remainder dominated by white stucco walls, a red tile roof and windows shaded with trellis work. It will have two levels, a 39,000-square-foot main floor housing most operations and a 13,000-square-foot upper level.

About 275 of The Star's 420 employees will work in the structure adjacent to the printing facility at 151 Factory Stores Drive, which opened in 1997. The building's design, Gallagher said, belies its location.

"It will be a very nice house in an industrial neighborhood," Gallagher said before the ceremony. "Compared to our current offices, it looks like the Taj Mahal."

The project is expected to cost $1 million more than the estimate when construction was announced. Gallagher said the rapidly escalating costs of concrete, steel, wood and other materials forced changes in the design to avoid even steeper increases. He said about 2,000 square feet was trimmed from the original design, the use of structural steel was reduced and a less expensive lighting system was chosen.

"We were really hammered by a lot of things," Gallagher said. "It was ż almost like a bubble in the carpet where maybe you'd step on it here, and the bubble would move somewhere else."

The general contractor is Parker Brown Inc. of Canoga Park. Work is expected to start within days, Gallagher said, and be completed by late November.

The Star plans to maintain its Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley offices after the Camarillo building opens. There also will be a smaller office in Ventura, the newspaper's home since it was founded in the 1920s. Its location has not been chosen, but Gallagher said he is looking to lease about 2,000 square feet near the Ventura County Government Center. Four reporters and a group of classified advertising employees will work there.

The Star has been owned by the E.W. Scripps Co., based in Cincinnati, since 1986.

The newspaper's current offices, on eight acres at 5250 Ralston St., Ventura, are in escrow, but Gallagher declined to identify the purchaser before the transaction closes, probably in a few months.

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