Eugene Field to close: Board continues discussion of replacement plan

May 2014 Posted in News, School
Silver Falls School District
Board work session

Monday, May 19, 7 p.m.
District Office
802 Schlador St.,

By Kristine Thomas 

The fate of Eugene Field School has been decided. It will close.

At its May 12 meeting, the Silver Falls School District Board unanimously agreed to approve a task force recommendation to close the 93-year old Eugene Field facility. No timeline for when the school will close was set.

The board did, however, vote to put a bond measure on the November ballot.

With those two decisions made, the  board members realize they need to quickly decide the details of what happens next – including the amount of the bond measure.

The board also agreed the Schlador Street property should be used as a site for a new school. However, the board has not decided if the property is best suited for a middle or an elementary school.

What is clear is board members want to gather additional information in order to move forward and present a clear and concise plan to the public. Each board member has expressed concern for being conscientious of the amount of the bond.

The board will meet in a work session Monday, May 19, 7 p.m. at the district office, 802 Schlador St. On the agenda will be a proposal by board member Wally Lierman to instruct the district staff to develop scope and costs for the preparation for a potential bond targeted for the November election that would include:

• Remove the old three-story section the Schlador Street Campus.

• Remove the old Ag Science building.

• Remodel and upgrade the remaining single story structures at the Schlador Street Campus.

• In fill the Schlador Street campus with new construction to provide new educational space.

• Provide safety and security upgrades at all of the district school buildings that are used for students per the consultant’s report.

• Provide technology upgrades in all  buildings.

Board members discussed the need to know what it will cost for those items in order to determine a next step.

Board member Julie Norris emphasized it’s the Schlador Street site that would be used. She stressed the board would not put students back into the two and three-story section that was deemed unsafe.

She said it’s important the board do what’s right for the community and students.

Eugene Field Principal Jennifer Hannan said the debate on whether to use the Schlador Street property for an elementary or middle school is between keeping cost down and vacating Eugene Field quickly or doing what is educationally most appropriate for students.

At the May 12 and previous meetings, the board has received a great deal of input from the community to consider when making that decision, Hannan said.

She said she appreciates the work the board has done in making the “difficult decision” to close the school. She added she appreciates all the community members and parents who have “stepped up to help in this process.”

“It’s been inspiring and a great testament to the heart of this community,” Hannan said.

She said she knows parents are ready to support whatever the board decides next.

Superintendent Andy Bellando presented the board with a comparison of using the Schlador campus as a K-3 school versus a school for grades 6-8.

He estimates it would cost less, and the complexity of the project and the timeline for completion would be less, to make the Schlador Street campus a site for a K-3 school.

Under discussion is whether the campus is more educationally appropriate for a middle or an elementary school. According to the consultant’s report, it is suited for a middle school and questionable for a grade school.

The other factor the board must consider is the input from the community. The report indicates more people favor it being a middle school.

One reason the board members have been deliberate in making a decision is they want to create a plan that will win voter approval. Bellando said the board knows the bond measure on the May 2013 ballot of $36.9 million was too expensive.

Board members voiced concern over presenting a plan that is fiscally prudent while also being educationally appropriate for the students.

Board member David Beeson said the voters in the Silver Falls School District are intelligent. He said the reason the last bond failed was because the board was clear on the plan.

“This time, we need to tell voters exactly what we are going to do,” he said.

Gene Pfeifer was the only community member at the May 12 meeting to speak against closing Eugene Field. He contends it would be financially prudent to remediate the building.

In an email to Hannan, Pfeifer wrote, “Whatever comes forth must be a favorable bond that serves the entire district; not just the most vocal few. It is necessary that a bond gets approved.”

In an email to Silver Falls Board Chair Tim Roth Pfeifer stated “the board is trying to make major decisions without adding up all the costs of the comprehensive crucial elements in one realistic package.”

Pfeifer acknowledges constituent requests include “safe schools; healthy environments; proper scholastic tools; buildings with longevity, energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, more security; an affordable bond budget and reasonably equal consideration to the rural schools.”

Safety – from the school’s location to the seismic study – was one of the reasons to vacate Eugene Field.

Board member David Beeson noted Eugene Field is not the only school with safety issues, adding there are reports on the seismic safety of Butte Creek, Central Howell and Mark Twain.

“We are one district,” he said. “We need to take care of the needs of all our elementary students.”

Dr. Michael Gabe was one of the community members who spoke in favor of closing Eugene Field and finding a new space. He said he is concerned about the safety of the school, including the potential for collapse if there were an earthquake.

He encouraged the board to move “quickly as it can,” adding he knows the students would be happy with any new school.

“As a community, we need to give them a safe school,” Gabe said.

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