When members of the city of Ashland’s City Hall Ad Hoc Committee meet in two weeks they can expect an earful from local residents who live around the Briscoe School at 265 North Main St. The school closed in 2004, but the Ashland School District has continued to maintain it, including the playground and open fields around the school. The district is at the point where they are considering the sale of the property.
This is where the committee comes in. They are considering the possibility of using the Briscoe School as a new site for City Hall, as the current downtown building on the Plaza cannot pass a seismic survey and would collapse in an earthquake, possibly killing people inside. The committee is tasked with offering options to the City Council as to what they can do. Options including renovating the current City Hall, which would cost an estimated $7.4 million dollars, and moving City Hall offices elsewhere.
Briscoe School is on the list of possible places.
Resident Peter Warren, who lives on Beach Street and often uses Lincoln School’s playground as well as Briscoe's, says while he might favor the move, he does not want to see the open space around the school used for a parking lot, stating that most auto manufacturers are in the process of creating fully autonomous vehicles which can drop people off rather than parking. “Parking lots will be a thing of the past.” He says it’s important to keep community gathering places intact rather than making more room for cars when we are working to become a greener city.
Melissa Mitchell Hoagie says she supports the City Hall possibility, but with a condition. “We prefer to have the school go to a public entity rather than a private owner,” she said, noting the school has intrinsic and historic value and is an amenity for the neighborhood and she doesn’t want to see it torn down or its field converted to parking either. “We urge the city to go to the neighbors and see how they feel.”
No proposals have been presented to the Ashland City Council. The 14-member Ad Hoc Committee, which includes three city staffers and 11 members of the community, is looking at several options. Others include moving to Winburn Way where the city currently has planning offices and expanding the building capacity. Another would be to take over the public parking lot at North Pioneer Street and Lithia Way and build a whole new structure.
City Councilors cannot yet weigh in until the proposal is officially presented to them, at which time there will be public hearings for residents to air concerns.
“I would really like to see the playground preserved and not turned into a parking lot,” Tiki McClure told the council at its business meeting Tuesday. She said the playground and open fields add not only tangible space and value but the value of sharing moments of importance within the community. “There have been movies, birthday parties, flashlight tag, people learning to ride bikes there.” McClure recalled the neighborhood coming together on a snow day and sledding the hillside. “It makes our neighborhood.”
The school takes up the block bounded by East Main, South Laurel, High and Manzanita streets.
In preparing its report for the city, the committee will include the remarks and concerns of residents, as well as a cost analysis and recommendations, which they have not yet made.
The next public meeting of the City Hall Ad Hoc Committee will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, at the Methodist Church, 175 North Main St.
—Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.
(July 24: Article updated to remove incorrect statement that the City Hall Ad Hoc Committee includes school district representatives; it does not.)