The fate of Briscoe Elementary is unlikely to be determined anytime soon, but at least one option will probably be scratched off the short list of local possibilities when the Ashland School Board reconvenes in October.
During the school board meeting on Monday, Ashland superintendent Kelly Raymond announced that the district agrees with the recommendation by the facilities committee that it stop investing resources into the 34,000-square foot building and work toward unloading the 3.74-acre property, which has been closed to students since 2004. Although the board put off the vote until its next meeting Oct. 9, Raymond’s statement left little doubt what will happen when it does.
“The facilities committee unanimously recommended at our last facilities committee meeting that we no longer invest resources beyond maintaining the facility for needs of current tenants and the district move toward responsibly divesting the Briscoe property,” Raymond said. “And talking to our finance and operations director, we’ve reviewed all the fiscal implications, and the district has considered input from various stakeholders. And, given this data, as the superintendent I concur with the facilities committee recommendation to no longer invest resources beyond maintaining the facility for the needs of our current tenants and that the district moves toward responsibly divesting the Briscoe property.”
Two organizations — Oregon Child Development Coalition and Lithia Art Guild — are each leasing half the building, an arrangement which netted the district an average of $147,000 per year between 2012 and 2016, according to public records. The problem lies in the building’s deferred maintenance, which was estimated at $6,591,749, according to a facility and capacity assessment report issued in 2005.
Essentially, Raymond’s decision reflects the district’s unwillingness to pour that kind of money into a building which has not been used by students in more than a decade and will not be used by students in the foreseeable future. And as the district’s director of finance, Jordan Ely, noted, those numbers are probably conservative by today’s standards.
“If we wanted to rehab it into an active school site, it would have cost over $6 million, and that’s 2006 dollars,” Ely said. “So after factoring for inflation and construction costs and everything else, we’re probably looking at over $10 million today.”
According to board member Jim Westrick , the board’s hope is that the property — located at 265 N. Main St. — remains public one way or another, though a road to that end has yet to materialize.
“I think we need to look at really what the options are,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “As we’ve said before, and I think this board is all in agreement, that our first choice would be to keep that land in the public trust somehow, which would be the city — the parks department — because it would be nice that it still belongs to the people of Ashland in one form or another. We’re still pushing for that, I know we would like to see that happen. …
“But I think we also have to recognize that if that doesn’t happen that doesn’t mean it just sits there forever and crumbles into a ball of granite. We need to responsibly divest of that property one way or another, and my first choice is certainly to keep it in the public trust, and so I’m hoping that that’s what we can do moving forward.”
Melissa Mitchelle-Hooge of Ashland Save Our Schools and Playgrounds, an organization dedicated in part to keeping both the Briscoe and Lincoln elementary sites in the public trust, also spoke at the meeting Monday during the time set aside for public comments. Mitchelle-Hooge, whose two grown sons attended Briscoe and still lives across the street from the school, said in a prepared statement that the building could still serve many civic uses, from a community center to yoga classes, and noted that the school's playground is still a popular destination for local families.
Contacted by phone Thursday, Mitchelle-Hooge said she’s working toward facilitating meetings that could lead to a resolution she believes would best serve the people of Ashland.
“Our main thing now is to try to get all three boards — the school board, the parks commission and the city council — to work together to come up with a permanent solution," she said. "We don’t ever want to go through this ordeal again.”
In an email to the Tidings on Thursday, Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission Director Michael Black said the commissioners have adopted a motion to work with the school district to find a way to keep the park facilities in public ownership.
“We are working together,” he said, “but no deal has been reached. I do think it’s possible. We just haven’t found the deal that works best for both entities.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.