Board rejects historic status for schools

But demolition of Jackson and Roosevelt schools still will be delayed until August because the heritage request was made

The Medford School Board on Tuesday rejected a proposal by the Medford historic commission to give local historical designations to two circa-1911 elementary schools scheduled to be demolished and replaced by the end of 2009.

"I think homage has been paid to the historical value of the schools (in the design of the replacement buildings)," said board member Mike Moran. "But we don't have the resources to preserve the buildings with the facade, and the condition is not conducive to student learning."

The board's decision terminates the historical designation process for Jackson and Roosevelt schools pending receipt of a written refusal. However, under law the rejection means the school district may not receive a permit to demolish the buildings for at least 120 days.

"The intention was to include the schools in the city's overlay of buildings of local historical importance," said Ron Wallace, historic commission vice president. "Those schools are not included in the overlay now."

Wallace said the purpose of the designation was to recognize and record the historical significance of the schools and exert some control over the external appearance of the buildings, whether preserved or built as new replacement structures.

Designations would not have necessarily meant the commission would have sought to stop demolition of the schools over which it has no authority. The commission only has the power to delay projects by up to 240 days.

Under law, any property owner may refuse to consent to historic commission proposals to designate buildings as "local historic resources."

Demolition of the original buildings and the 1931 gymnasium additions had been scheduled for June. It now will have to wait at least until August, possibly delaying other aspects of the construction projects.

Plans call for demolishing and replacing the original portions of the schools and the gymnasiums and renovating the 1949 classroom wings and 1985 cafeterias. Jackson's library will be retained. Each school project will cost about $12 million and be funded with proceeds from a $189 million bond measure voters approved in November 2006.

School Board Chairman Larry Nicholson said the district cannot afford the additional cost of renovating the 1911 portions of the schools, which are constructed of three stories of unreinforced masonry and have structural deficiencies.

Renovating the buildings would cost about $1 million more than new construction, according to estimates by Opsis Architecture of Portland.

The higher cost of renovation stems largely from seismic upgrades, installing elevators to provide access to students with disabilities and working within the constraints of the existing buildings.

Nicholson said the 1911 structures don't adequately accommodate modern teaching methods, such as team teaching, sharing resources and supplies and small group activities.

Some Jackson and Roosevelt parents and staff members who fought hard for bond funds to prevent their schools from being mothballed last year were pleased with the board's decision.

Marcia Katzmar, music teacher at Roosevelt and Jefferson elementary schools, said moving forward on the demolition and replacement construction plans is the best decision for students.

"With the cost of gas and materials rising, we can't put off building these buildings," Katzmar said. "Even a short delay might mean we are not able to build them."

Built in the American Renaissance style, Jackson and Roosevelt are among the oldest surviving public school facilities in the city. They represent a time of record growth in Medford known as the "Orchard Boom" because of the high value of pears at the time.

The design for the new buildings at Jackson and Roosevelt is reminiscent of the old style, with two-story brick buildings, plenty of windows and gabled rooftops.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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