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MailTribune.com
  • Board hopes to avoid postponing construction

    Historic commission vote could mean delays for Medford school projects
  • MEDFORD — The Medford School Board may ask the Medford City Council to overturn a historic commission's vote if it determines that vote will force it to postpone construction on two elementary schools.
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  • MEDFORD — The Medford School Board may ask the Medford City Council to overturn a historic commission's vote if it determines that vote will force it to postpone construction on two elementary schools.
    "We're actually looking at our time lines," said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long. "Within the next several weeks we'll know if there (are) consequences."
    The Medford School Board on Tuesday rejected a proposal by the city's Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission to give local historical designations to the Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools, both of which were built in 1911 and closed in 2007.
    Though the decision ends the historical designation process, the historic commission's action will require the school district to wait at least 120 days to receive a demolition permit because of a state law.
    See correction note below
    City Manager Mike Dyal said the city has not heard that the school district wants to overturn the historic commission's action, so the city hasn't looked into possible responses. The ball is in the School Board's court, he said.
    Long said the district had hoped to complete construction on the two schools by December 2009, which would allow students to use the schools for the second half of that school year. Students from the two schools have been relocated to four different schools within the district.
    The reconstruction of Jackson and Roosevelt is part of a $189 million bond measure passed by voters in 2006, but the brick-exterior schools were closed in May of 2007 because of concerns that they would not be safe in an earthquake.
    Medford City Councilman Jim Kuntz said the council's officers have not formally discussed the historic commission's actions. He said there were no plans on the city's part to try to overrule the 120-day delay, and said he wasn't even sure if the council had the authority to do so.
    According to state statute, "No permit for the demolition or modification of property removed from consideration for historic property designation under subsection (1) of this section shall be issued during the 120-day period following the date of the property owner's refusal to consent."
    There is no further explanation as to why there is a 120-day period.
    George Kramer, historical preservation consultant, said he thinks it is so an owner has a cooling-off period after refusing designation. Kramer, who has been an outspoken critic of the district's plans to demolish the schools, said the four months would buy essential time.
    "We will know that there is money and an approved design for these buildings before they're torn down," he said.
    The Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission is charged with protecting or improving structures or districts of historic value. The commission has the authority to make decisions regarding the appropriateness of proposed new construction and remodeling that would change the appearance of historical structures or districts.
    Members of the board, who are appointed by the City Council for four-year terms, are chairwoman Cathy de Wolfe, vice-chairman Ron Wallace, Todd Carney, Charles Lang, Bob Lee, Diana Marmom and Susan White.
    The commission has said that its intention in seeking the designation was to include the schools in the city's list of buildings of local historical importance. The move gives the commission some control over the external appearance of the buildings.
    John Huttl, city attorney, said it will be up to the school district to determine how to contest the 120-day delay, if it chooses to do so. The city is not looking into the necessary process at this time, he said.
    Each school project will cost about $12 million. Architects' estimates for the school district said preserving the original structures as part of the new buildings would add about $1 million in cost for each building.
    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. Long said asbestos removal must take place before demolition, so it's possible the 120-day delay won't slow crews down.
    "We're assessing the consequences for our schedule. If that became a problem we would probably approach the city," he said.
    Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.
    Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect statement from Mike Dyal that he would bring up the historic-schools designation with the City Council. That statement has been deleted from this version.
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