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Parks signs off on Briscoe purchase

Members of a neighborhood group broke into applause Monday night as the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved the purchase of the open space at the Briscoe School site.

The 1.7-acre park, adjacent to the Briscoe School building, has been a neighborhood park for decades, parks Director Michael Black said at the meeting.

“There have been concerns — and rumors — that the district was selling it for profit, which would be a travesty for the neighborhood,” Black said. “But by acquiring it, we can make sure that it will remain a neighborhood park.”

The three-way deal also involves Ashland School District and the Ashland City Council, both of which approved the purchase March 20. The city is buying the 38,000-square-foot Briscoe School building for $1.54 million.

“There was a concern about the open space since 2004,” parks Commissioner Jim Lewis said, referring to the district’s decision to close down Briscoe School. “This agreement is the model of how public entities could work together.”

Melissa Mitchell-Hooge, an active member of the group Save Our Schools and Playgrounds, brought flowers, cupcakes and a legal-pad size card that read, “Thank you Parks Commissioners.”

“If I break out into song, please forgive me — I’m very happy right now,” Mitchell-Hooge said, listing anecdotes of how the park has benefited the community. “We are beyond thrilled about this outcome … and we are forever grateful.”

According to the agreement, parks will make an annual payment of $50,000 to the Ashland School District over a period of 10 years. The funding comes from the department’s annual food and beverage tax allocation of $650,000.

Under the same agreement, the open space acquired by parks will be separated to a different tax lot from the city’s purchase. Black said the partition is “important for long-term liability.”

Black said the current tenant of the building, Oregon Child Development Coalition, has requested that parks temporarily allocate a small part of its open space for a playground facility. The city has a financial plan of how it will pay for the site that depends heavily on a lease with OCDC.

The area needs to be fenced in and updated to be in compliance with federal laws, Black said.

“But the area will still be available to the public and open after hours,” he said.

Senior Program recommendations

The Parks Commission also approved all recommendations to reorganize the Senior Program — including a proposal to increase the program’s personnel budget by 64 percent, or $124,000.

The vote concluded the commission’s effort to “expand and increase services” at the program, which started January 2017 and became a controversial issue that led to an unsuccessful recall election in March.

“Thank you (the ad hoc committee) for their work,” Black said of the 11-member committee that met over five months. “The recommendations will help improve the Senior Program and provide a framework for a new superintendent.”

The effort was heavily criticized by a number of the program’s patrons — who also organized the March recall election. The commission heard no public testimony opposing the vote Monday night.

The additional funding — which comes from reductions in funding for other divisions in the parks department — will go toward hiring a superintendent and a full-time support staff, according to a staff report.

The budget modification is temporary for parks and administration divisions. Black said the commission will get a report to adjust the Senior Program budget after the first year under a superintendent.

The recreation division is consolidating internal positions between programs to permanently allocate $70,000 to the Senior Program.

“These are some savings we weren’t able to see until now,” Black said at the meeting, adding that he’s confident the commission could continue to fund the new positions at the Senior Center after the first year. “This is not a one-year program. That is not an intent.”

“The worst case scenario is that we would have to come with $50,000 to cover the cost?” Commissioner Rick Landt asked at the meeting.

“Yes,” said Black.

The increased funding also will include a budget of $7,000 for training, which didn’t exist before, Black said. The total of the Senior Center’s 2018-19 budget comes out to almost $308,000.

The vote also allows the program to establish itself as a nonprofit, giving it authority to raise money for itself instead of going through the Parks Foundation.

Landt added a recommendation to emphasize programs for at-risk seniors.

All recommendations passed unanimously.

According to ad hoc committee chair Jackie Bachman, the hiring process of a superintendent has begun.

The deadline to apply for the program’s advisory board is March 28.

“This is an important framework,” Commissioner Mike Gardiner said. “It’s essential that we melt down all the information we have in order to move forward.”

Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.