Bill Gates-backed company eyes historic Skagit County hospital site for major expansion

Marc Stiles, February 17, 2015, Puget Sound Business Journal

In Skagit County, a homegrown company could could be the answer to a 40-year-old problem: what to do with a long-vacant property.

Janicki Bioenergy is proposing to turn the historic Northern State Hospital site in Sedro-Woolley into a research-and-development facility where as many as 1,000 people could work in the next five years.

Janicki is the company behind a clean-water OmniProcessor technology that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is backing, and the company plans to develop other sanitation and energy technologies.

The OmniProcessor uses heat and steam to turn human feces into potable water. In a blog post last month, Bill Gates drank water out of jar filled directly from the machine, and he later challenged Jimmy Fallon to drink up during a “Tonight Show” appearance.

Peter Janicki, a co-founder of Janicki Bioenergy, said that since then people from more than 50 countries have contacted the company about buying machines.

With funding from the Gates Foundation, Janicki Bioenergy is hiring 65 people this year and has big plans for the property that operated as a mental hospital until closing in 1973. The company wants to break ground on the R&D facility by the end of the year.

“We are very eager to get to work,” said Janicki.

He is a native of Sedro-Wooley, a town of 10,650 on Highway 20 about 10 miles east of Interstate 5.

Officials from the city, Port of Skagit and the county are trying to clear the way for re-development of the state-managed property that is on the National Register of Historic Places. On Friday, state and local officials issued a press release stating that a “memorandum of intent” could be finalized in April. The memo will outline transferring the property to local control through a long-term lease or ownership transfer.

Janicki said he would like state officials to decide the matter by this spring. The company is also looking at an OmniProcessor assembly site in Utah, but Janicki said he prefers the site in his hometown if the company’s timetable can be met.

The renowned Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm designed the hospital site. Janicki Bioenergy envisions using renovated existing historic buildings as training facilities, meeting and conference space and short-term housing for visitors, and office and research space.

The chance to help a local company generate local jobs with a humanitarian mission is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…,” Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said in the press release.

State Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, is sponsoring legislation that would grant the state Department of Enterprise Services the authority to pursue a long-term arrangement with the port for the Northern State Hospital campus.


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