Closure set: But debate continues to swirl about Eugene Field School

February 2015 Posted in School
School board elections set for May
Elections will be held in May for board positions
in both the Mount Angel and Silver Falls school districts.
The first day to file to run for a seat on the board is
Feb. 7. The filing deadline is March 19. To learn more,
call the Mount Angel district office at 503-845-2345 or
the SFSD office at 503-873-5303.

By Kristine Thomas

Although the Silver Falls School District Board of Directors set a date to close Eugene Field Elementary School and relocate students, the debate continues.

“This issue isn’t going away,” Dan Johnson said. “This board isn’t listening to the voters. There is a lot of passion about this issue and I feel it is dividing our community and our families.”

On Jan. 9, the school board voted 4-3 to close Eugene Field by Aug. 31, 2016. The resolution calls for moving kindergarten through second grades to Mark Twain; putting third through fifth grades at Robert Frost; and moving sixth through eighth to Schlador Street.

The resolution estimates the project will cost $2.5 million, to be funded through a loan with amortized annual debt service payments. Other items on the resolution include determining the future use of Eugene Field, evaluating attendance boundaries, and having a district-wide long range facility planning task force evaluate facility needs.

Board chair Tim Roth and board members Wally Lierman, Owen Von Flue and Erv Stadeli voted in favor of the resolution. Julie Norris, David Beeson and Tom Buchholz voted against it.

Roth said the decision is a temporary solution.

“With the bond failure, it is still imperative to get kids out of Eugene Field as soon as possible. The building is not adequate or suitable to use as a school anymore. It’s just not good for kids or staff,” Roth said.

All the solutions presented would require the passage of a bond measure, Roth said, adding the majority of the board did not think going for another bond was in the best interest of the district and doubted its ability to pass.

“This leaves having a plan that the district can afford without bond dollars. This plan is affordable and one that will work. It gets us out of Eugene Field and with the addition of some modulars at Schlador it’s a very workable solution,” Roth said.

He hopes the decision doesn’t hinder the passage of a bond in the future.

“One thing that will continue is discussions about facilities in general. In time we will be able to come up with a plan that is hopefully more suitable for all district voters,” Roth said. “This plan gives us that time while taking care of immediate needs getting out of Eugene Field.”

Beeson said he has heard people are disappointed in the board’s decision.

“Disgust’ would be a better word – and a lot of it – with the administration and board leadership about the manner in which the Eugene Field School and the bond requests have been handled would probably be more appropriate,” Beeson said. “The damage to the school district’s credibility with the community will take years and years to repair. It’s not just the school board.”

Beeson said the hastily conceived and not completely understood plans for the Schlador site are unpopular with many. He said all the reasons raised by the administration to vacate Eugene Field – including seismic safety, aged facilities and location –  “somehow don’t apply when discussing the same problems at Schlador or Mark Twain, a very dangerous building with no plans or funds to fix it.”

Silver Falls Superintendent Andy Bellando said the board spent many months listening to community members and weighing what would be in the community’s best interest.

“Though this is not the solution we were hoping for, it is now the most appropriate and affordable option to addresses our most pressing facility need, Eugene Field School,” Bellando said. “This plan is not intended to be permanent. Long-range facility planning efforts at all district schools will continue as we move into the future.”

Leslie Martin supports the board’s plan to close Eugene Field and the plan to move students. She says she thinks it is the least disruptive to students and staff.

“It is past time for this to happen,” Martin said. “Is this the ideal plan? No. But it’s what the district can do with limited resources since bond attempts have repeatedly failed.”

Martin is hopeful voters will approve a bond in the next three to five years.

While many support the board’s decision to close the school and move forward, there are those who think it moved too fast, especially when other plans were being discussed including placing a bond on the ballot this spring to either pay to make improvements to Eugene Field or to build an elementary school near Robert Frost.

Andy Diacetis said he is happy the students and staff will finally be able to move out of Eugene Field.

“It is a completely inadequate and substandard facility for our children,” Diacetis said. “I just wish the community would have been more willing to fight immediately for a different bond.”

Diacetis knows many community members who voted no on the past two bonds who would have voted yes for a $16 to $18 million plan to build a new K-3 school behind Robert Frost. That proposal also would have had funds for maintenance for rural schools.

“I think this could pass in 2015. The fact that this idea hasn’t even been considered is disappointing to me,” Diacetis said.

Sarah Kaser Weitzman said she thinks the community and the teachers and parents are thrilled with the resolution.

“Everyone I have spoken to in town, view Eugene Field as an eyesore, a safety hazard, an inappropriate location for an elementary school, and then of course there are all the problems inside,” she said. “An amazing feat is done daily by teachers to educate our kids. They forge through a multitude of problems like one outlet per room and sinks that can’t wash hands just to name a few.

“I am thankful for the great work that the board has done, and celebrate that after 30 years of trying to get kids and teachers out of that building, it’s finally happening,” Weitzman said.

Todd White thinks the decision is a mistake, especially adding modulars as classrooms at Schlador Street.

“The short term use of trailers at Schlador Street campus is a waste of money, and doesn’t solve any problems, it just moves them,” White said. “These trailers will be worthless after a couple years, and the district does not have the money to buy them to begin with.”

White disagrees with the district’s decision to take out a loan or use general funds for the $2.5 million project.

“There is absolutely no reason to close Eugene Field at this time,” White said. “It could serve a few more years of service until a better solution could be found, but the board majority has outright said they were tired of this issue. The voters sent a clear message saying no, but they refuse to listen. They did something just to be done with the issue, which was wrong, and I hope they are held accountable.”

Rena Wagner said the board spent many hours researching options and listening to the community in order to make an informed decision.

“I have observed them over the years do their homework,” Wagner said. “This was a difficult decision to finally make and I applaud them for it.”

 

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