Update Eugene Field process review: Guest Opinion Kyle Palmer, Silverton Mayor

September 2018 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

A few citizens have recently brought back up our plans for the Eugene Field School site, so it’s time for another update.

The City purchased the entire EF property in late 2017 after negotiations with the Silver Falls School District, who’d weathered having at least two previous offers on the property fall through.

We are federally required to have a seismically safe Police Department in place in the next six years and had been considering many sites. We’d terminated our interest in the old Square Deal Lumber site, having made an offer of $1.2 million for it previously. Following that, we ultimately purchased the Eugene Field site for $1 million, providing a site for the future Civic Center that best fit the desires voiced by most of those who provided input. We also saved a key piece of property from falling into the hands of an unknown developer who may have built something that the community didn’t find palatable. As we’d been looking for property for several years, we also had saved up the amount needed to purchase the property.

In February, the Council seemed to lean toward deconstruction of the building and scheduled opportunities to hear from the public in March and April. Both meetings were well publicized and, while no citizens testified or provided written testimony at the March meeting, five people provided input at or before the April meeting. I asked for input repeatedly via social media…

At the April meeting, we voted to direct staff to start the process of bidding the asbestos abatement, removal of a decommissioned underground tank, and ultimately to remove the building itself, which is known to be severely laden with lead paint (requiring that the debris be taken to a special facility for disposal).

On Aug. 6, we approved a contract for a company to begin the asbestos and underground tank phase. We did not, as has been suggested, vote to approve over $700,000 that night/ That figure comes from a previously budgeted amount for the entire abatement and demolition. The Aug. 6 contract was for $144,171 of which $150,000 was budgeted. We did approve the addition of a 20 percent contingency amount in case unknown issues arise.

Consideration of a contract for demolition … will be sometime in the future, but engineering estimates range from $150,000 – $200,000.

I attended Eugene Field School for kindergarten through third grade, and while I have fond memories, I’ve read enough, heard enough, and seen enough to be 100 percent convinced that the building has no useful value. In addition to all of the known problems, it is now also infested with widespread mold making even a brief occupancy not without risk.

We promised the public a thorough process in determining what to do with the site. We began that process with the question of what citizens felt was a responsible approach to the building. While we didn’t receive much formal input, we all heard a recurring theme in the anecdotal conversations with citizens – “it’s time for the building to go, and why haven’t you done it yet?”

As we move forward on the site, we envision a substantial conversation with the community about what should be built and how it should look. We’ve already heard some wonderful suggestions that include keeping some architectural reminder…, memorializing the school with a remake of the existing mural, incorporating a small park, finding some space to “spin off” into attractive commercial space, incorporating some space for public parking, etc. My own opinion is that we must keep that concrete hitching post that is on the south end of the Water street side of the property. We all have a voice and we all have the right to provide input. This project … is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a key downtown property to be designed and built in a manner in which the community can take pride. That doesn’t mean it will be overpriced or overdeveloped.

In terms of financing the construction, we have several alternatives… To date, none of us have expressed any interest in a public bond to pay for it. In the meantime, we own a rapidly deteriorating building that has already been subject to vandalism. If all goes well, we hope to have the building deconstructed, and the site available to use for temporary parking during the planning stages. Please take some time to consider what you’d like to see on this site and be prepared to help us make those decisions. The city has published a fact sheet on Eugene Field at http://www.silverton.or.us/423/Eugene-Field-Property.

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