A new deal: City offers school district $1 million for Eugene Field property

August 2017 Posted in Community

DSC_0176By Paula Mabry

The “ayes” have it — and on a 6 – 0 vote July 17 the Silverton City Council agreed to move forward with a $1 million offer on the former Eugene Field School site.

Now the city has 60 days to determine if the North Water Street property will work for a new police department and potential city hall and civic center.

The Silver Falls School District receives a $25,000 check for “earnest money” and the city gets documentation on the site. Meanwhile there’s much more to come before anything is finalized: appraisal, environmental reviews, and a summer-long process to determine if the existing structure can be used or if the city would have to “start fresh” due to the costs involved in abating long-standing problems.

“We don’t have a lot of answers,” Mayor Kyle Palmer acknowledged before the vote. But he went on to add, “It is a unique piece of property and far worse could happen to it.”

The district closed the school, constructed in 1921, in June 2016 after years of concern over structural safety, inadequate electrical and air circulation systems and accessibility issues.

But even with the problems, the school which served generations of Silver Falls students remained a downtown darling of history buffs.

In the months since the property went on the market, two developers have come to the district with offers for the 3.46 acre, five parcel site, but when the final due diligence was completed each walked away from the offer to buy. 

In July, when that happened the second time, the city was poised in the “second position” with an offer on the table.

The city has been in serious discussions about a new site for the police station for years. In 2015 it made its first pick for a new home – property near the corner of C and North Water. But in April concerns over logistics and rail lines led the city to withdraw from a deal for that site.

While an expanded police department is an immediate need, the city hall and civic center can be phased in, Palmer said. It all depends upon the ultimate price tag. So far no formal design has been established.

The idea of the city taking over the Eugene Field site met with enthusiastic initial support. Once word of the city’s offer surfaced on social media, the emails and letters the council received before the July 17 vote were all supportive, Palmer said. During public comments, speakers at the council meeting praised the idea.

Greg Sheesley asked the council to go forward “honoring the past” and to see to it that the trees on property are protected.

Ann Altman said city ownership could be an “advantage to the viability of downtown” and supported the idea of constructing the police station and city hall simultaneously.

“Think for the future,” Rick Bittner urged as he spoke in favor of acquiring the site.

“How refreshing it is to get positive feedback!” Councilor Dana Smith said.

Councilor Jim Sears agreed, adding the potential acquisition offered a great opportunity for continued community engagement and input.

The audience applauded the vote to move forward and confirm the city offer.

Now the scrutiny of Eugene Field begins anew.

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