Oak Grove Elementary School's original 100-year-old building could be demolished and replaced with leftover Medford School District bond funds.

Oak Grove Elementary School's original 100-year-old building could be demolished and replaced with leftover Medford School District bond funds.

Staff began researching how much it would cost to demolish and replace the 1908 building along West Main Street after prices for other projects in the district's ongoing $189 million bond program were less than expected, including rebuilding Lone Pine Elementary School and constructing a new South Medford High School.

Plans now call for remodeling the historic Oak Grove structure, most recently used as a media center and library, as part of a $9.3 million project to renovate classroom and cafeteria space and to build a new gymnasium and administration-commons building at the campus.

"One of the things that prompted the idea of replacing the building was the savings on the other sites," said Mark Button, Medford schools facilities director. "When we looked at the priority list we saw we could get the most benefits from replacing the Oak Grove media center."

It will cost $708,000 to remodel the media center, Button said. Demolishing it and replacing it would cost about $1.3 million, according to preliminary estimates.

"We don't want to give the perception that we are going to replace the Oak Grove media center until we get all the facts," Button said.

The future of the structure hinges on the amount of construction bids to rebuild Medford's Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools. The bids are due Sept. 17.

If leftover bond funds are available to replace Oak Grove's media center after the bids are opened, staff will seek the school board's approval Oct. 7 to move forward with the proposal, Button said.

While a new building would cost about $500,000 more than renovating the old one, the extra cost would be worthwhile, said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long. A new building would have a longer life span and would be easier to tie into the design of the administration and commons buildings to be constructed, he said.

"We could invest in more floor space and some things that integrate a little better," he said.

While he acknowledged the historic significance of the school, he said the district's priority is to create long-lasting functional teaching space.

"Our investment is in elementary schools that will last many years and serve lots of families," Long said. "It is about maximizing the taxpayer investment for the long run."

Renovating the two-story building would require an extensive seismic upgrade and improvements to bring it up to current code, said project manager Jim McNamara.

"The concrete footing and walls are undersized and under-enforced," McNamara said. "The wood structure built on top isn't up to today's codes. They didn't understand the risks of earthquakes and how to structure a building to limit damage."

The building's design creates supervisory limitations because the media center is isolated on a second floor, Long said. The lower floor has low ceilings, scarce light and doors that are shorter than standard, he said.

The original Oak Grove school was built across the street in 1891, said Principal Julie Evans.

The existing one-room schoolhouse was built in 1908, she said. In the 1920s, it received an addition on the part of the building that faces West Main as well as its gymnasium, which was demolished this summer, she said.

"The historic and sentimental aspect of the building is huge," Evans said. "There were tears when the gym went down. This is a place where people have many memories."

The part of the school most visible to passersby on West Main was most likely designed by Claud Freeman, who was the architect of the Wagner Creek School historical site and Bellview Elementary in Ashland, said George Kramer, a local historic preservation consultant.

"In terms of significance, the school is probably the single greatest reminder that there was a community called Oak Grove," Kramer said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.