February 27, 2008

What to do with a community icon?

It's been more than 90 years since the proud city of Redmond built its beautiful two-story brick high school on Ninth Street and soon the community will have to make a difficult choice: what to do with a structure everyone seems to treasure and no one has any use for?

The Redmond School District, which still uses the facility for its intended purposes -- educating children -- will decide tonight if it wants to ask voters to approve a school construction bond, and part of the proposed bond, unfortunately, regards the usefulness of the current Evergreen Elementary building.

What was once a shining example of civic pride is now a pile of trouble encompassed in brick. The entire heating and ventilation system is long past being worth repair and the antiquated building techniques used in 19?? would require any upgrading to include an estimated $15 million in structural supports. Add to that a long list of smaller, but important, repairs and the district would face nearly $20 in repairs.

The sad truth is for $20 million dollars the district could build a modern elementary school free from maintenance headaches -- and that is what it is contemplating doing, putting its investment in a school that could last many more decades without expensive upgrades.

Now, what to do with Evergreen after the last chalkboard is removed? Who wants a complex of buildings one city-block large with virtually no parking? Who needs a full-size gymnasium, a wing of aging classrooms and an even older brick building that might collapse at the first moderate earthquake?

Yet, who would want to see this beautiful building and piece of Redmond history meet a terrible fate? Who can avoid cringing at the idea of an ambitious developer buying the site for a song, bulldozing the structures and constructing a fancy townhome complex or business center?

It goes without saying that the school district is not likely to get a huge sum for the site, despite its proximity to the city center and large size. It is a practical use of taxpayer dollars to consider a sale of the property and construction of a new school elsewhere, not to mention a better learning environment for students.

But should the district be responsible for what happens to the former school buildings after it is no longer the owner? Perhaps this is akin to finding a good home for a beloved pet you no longer have the time and resources to take care of. While no one can blame you for admitting that you can't do what needs to be done for the animal, as a responsible owner you are honor-bound to make sure someone else will do a good job.

Or maybe this task is too big for the schools, which should be busy educating children, to tackle alone. Perhaps if the city cares so much about the fate of the school building, the community needs to step up and offer to find a new use, and funding, for the structure.

You can be sure that if the school ends in a pile of bricks there will be plenty of finger pointing to go around, and maybe those fingers should be pointing at their owners. If we want to claim ownership over a 'community treasure' we need to claim the responsibility as well.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Just a thought, the twenty million + in repairs for the old building is enough to scare any investors, interested in preserving the old building, away.
How about an exchange sell the property for $1.00 provided the preservation and upgrades for the building are upheld, allow alternative zoning and allow parking on the property. in exchange for the preservation and upgrades, the city of Redmond would wave any property taxes until the twenty Million is reimbursed to the investor.