Walking through the newly renovated and centralized warehouse of the Medford Education Center, Medford schools' facilities supervisor Mark Button says district departments are working together now in ways never possible before.

Walking through the newly renovated and centralized warehouse of the Medford Education Center, Medford schools' facilities supervisor Mark Button says district departments are working together now in ways never possible before.

"This is huge," Button said Monday, as he walked past a new loading dock and through a maze of pallets piled with textbooks, paper and boxes of supplies ready to be parceled out to the district's 1,100 employees and 12,500 students.

The high, arched ceiling of the warehouse reminds employees that the room was the Medford Mid High School gym decades ago, something that made for a smooth transition when Medford School District administrators proposed renovating the building last year at a cost of $1.3 million.

"The structure of the building was ideal for this consolidation," said Button, who oversaw the construction and modification of the building formerly called the annex. The work was done primarily by district staff over the past year.

The former Medford High School, Mid High and South Medford High School site now brings together departments previously spread across four other district buildings around town, putting administration, maintenance, distribution, food services and technology just steps away from each other.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a district," said Superintendent Phil Long, whose office is now on the same campus as Button's.

From different doors of the warehouse, rooms for information technology, maintenance and publications were buzzing with activity Monday morning as staff rushed to make sure things are running smoothly before school begins Sept. 4.

District administrators lobbied the School Board last spring to spend the final chunk of money from a 2006 bond measure on the consolidation, and estimate the repurposed building will save about $300,000 each year in efficiencies related to fuel, maintenance, transportation and personnel.

The bond measure paid for numerous remodeling and construction projects, including a new South Medford High School a mile away, leaving the old campus, constructed in 1931, vacant.

The $1.3 million pricetag for the consolidation worried board members Marlene Yesquen and Paulie Brading, who thought approving the project while the district struggled with a $12 million budget shortfall wasn't fiscally responsible.

Brading had argued that she didn't want to approve spending money on anything but "teachers and students," but Long said he hopes people will understand that the money saved through the consolidation ultimately will push resources into the classrooms.

"It comes down to being good stewards of our resources," said Long, adding that district enrollment is expected to grow over the next decade, and an efficient headquarters will be vital to success.

The district buildings previously used for maintenance and a warehouse were in disrepair and a loading dock was out of compliance, work that would also have been costly for the district if the consolidation wasn't approved, Button said.

"It's frightening if you look at where we had people working," said Long. "It made more sense to renovate this building."

Long said communication among different departments is improving, with lots of "walk and talk meetings" and simplified interactions.

"It's been a huge plus," said Long. "It was such an opportunity."

The campus also serves the 220 students of Central Medford High School, the district's alternative school, which was previously housed in a leased space, and the Southern Oregon Education Service District's special education program.

The repurposing of the building was studied by the Center for Innovative School Facilities, which said the project could serve as an example for other Oregon districts.

The CISF recognized the district for leasing extra space in the building to local nonprofits agencies that have missions aligning with the district's, mostly serving children.

The Job Council's Youth Build program occupies a classroom, while the Rogue Valley Youth Chorus leased space last year.

The former administration building across the street has become home to the Maslow Project, which serves homeless youths inside and outside the district.

"We look for mostly nonprofits with a youth-serving mission that aligns or complements our district," said Long.

Organizations leasing space pay custodial and utility fees but are able to house their programs at a cost much lower than market value, Button said.

Long said the consolidation was an opportunity the district couldn't pass up.

"Many districts grow and aren't able to plan for this," said Long. "It's a big milestone for us."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.