The Medford historic commission has proposed giving Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools a local historic designation to help preserve historic elements of the circa 1911 schools, now earmarked for demolition.
The move will likely stall a planned May demolition of the oldest portions of the schools and gymnasiums by 120 to 240 days.
The Medford School District plans to construct new buildings to replace the old ones. The libraries and classroom wings built in 1949 will be renovated.
"We feel very strongly these schools are very important assets to the historic fabric of Medford," said Cathy de Wolfe, chairwoman of the Medford Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission.
"It would be nice if they could renovate the buildings."
School Board members said they don't know how they'll respond to the proposal but will seek legal advice before deciding. The school district may refuse the designation in writing and terminate the designation process. However, it would likely still have to wait 120 days before receiving a permit to demolish the buildings under city code. While the commission can delay a project to encourage a property owner to preserve a historic building or element, it may not stop it, de Wolfe said.
What the proposal will mean to the cost and timeline to the district's overall construction projects at the schools is unclear, said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long.
"To some extent we've made the decision about historic preservation (in choosing to demolish the buildings), but we do need to give this proposal careful consideration because a lot of work went into it," said Eric Dziura, board vice president.
"Knowing what I know now, it is unlikely this will change our plans," Dziura said. "The buildings as they now stand have drawbacks that could be corrected by constructing new buildings."
That includes making the buildings comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act for accessibility, he said.
Limited funds were another motivation for building new instead of renovating, Dziura said.
Renovating the buildings would cost about $1 million more than new construction, according to estimates by Opsis Architecture in Portland.
Jackson and Roosevelt were shuttered last June when a district-commissioned engineer concluded the buildings were structurally weak and unsafe to occupy.
The school district had considered keeping both schools closed and dispersing students to other schools. Under pressure from the community, board members later voted to tear down dilapidated portions of the schools and replace them with new buildings, so the campuses could continue to serve students. With a budget of about $12 million each, they concluded it would cost less and allow more flexibility in design to rebuild rather than renovate parts of the schools.
Built in the American Renaissance style, Jackson and Roosevelt are among the oldest surviving public school facilities in the city.
They have had several additions and renovations over the years.
Contractor Alfred Ivey built both schools along with the Carnegie Library and other local structures. The schools' architect is unknown.
"They were built at a time of a growth boom in Medford," de Wolfe said.
Historians call it the "Orchard Boom" because of the value put on pears at the time, and it reached its climax in 1910 when new construction in Medford broke a record.
Based on the symmetry of traditional Greek and Roman architecture, the American Renaissance style became popular after the 1892 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Jackson and Roosevelt were considered state-of-the-art at the time they were built with windows on each of three stories, allowing a flow of daylight in the classrooms.
"Their architecture is unique," de Wolfe said.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.