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Closing a school could be profitable

ASHLAND ' The Ashland School District stands to turn a handsome profit if board members on Monday vote to close Briscoe and Lincoln elementary schools and later sell or lease the properties.

Both school are on prime land in a city that has the state's most expensive real estate.

Those are very valuable pieces of land, said broker Kyle Ahrberg, owner of Remax Realty Group in Ashland. Their locations are central. They are very visible.

Ahrberg said on Friday he couldn't estimate the value of each property without first conducting an appraisal. And there are variables like potential demolition costs or the condition of the existing structures.

School officials won't discuss future uses until after the school board on Monday votes whether to close one or more district schools by June.

Faced with declining enrollment, shifting demographics and scarce funding, the district is considering closing up to two of its five elementary schools to save money. The district's School Closure Committee was charged with ranking each school; they chose Briscoe and then Lincoln as the most expendable. Schools were ranked on enrollment, classroom space, maintenance, safety and property size.

However, committee member Kent Provost said the group chose not to include possible profits from the sale or lease of each property when ranking the buildings for closure.

There were too many unknowns, Provost said. We just decided it would be best not to include it in the criteria.

So far, school administrators have steered clear of researching options for the potentially vacant properties. Ashland School Finance Director Loren Luman said that subject will most likely be broached after the board votes on Monday.

That hasn't been decided or discussed, said Luman. We do know there are folks who have an interest (in the properties).

Briscoe Elementary School, at 265 N. Main St. little more than a quarter-mile from the Plaza, has an assessed value of &

36;857,330, according to a spokeswoman at the Jackson County Assessor's office. The building has 12 classrooms and a capacity for 300 students. It is approximately 36,060 square feet and sits on 3.73 acres. There is no off-street parking.

Lincoln Elementary School, 320 Beach St. at Siskiyou Boulevard next to Southern Oregon University, covers 2 acres and has an assessed value of &

36;699,500, according to the county. The building has 16 classrooms and houses up to 400 students. The property has unpaved, off-street parking.

Local real estate brokers on Friday confirmed that the county's listed value is very low and would increase substantially with an appraisal.

Both schools are zoned R-2 for multi-family residential use. But the Ashland Planning Department allows conditional use permits for properties in R-2 zones. Conditional uses include churches, schools, professional offices and clinics, hospitals, wholesale plant nurseries and others. The permit also might allow for traveler accommodations, such as a bed and breakfast with no more than seven guests.

Ashland school officials last week heard from several community members during a public meeting. Many residents suggested the district make money by leasing the empty buildings to day-care providers or yoga or spiritual classes. Others suggested converting the classrooms into office space.

According to David Lively of Commercial Property Management, office space is snatched up quickly in Ashland.

There is a need, especially for nice, smaller spaces, Lively said.

Office space ranges from 65 cents per square foot for low quality space or distant locations, and up to &

36;1.25 per square foot for premium digs, Lively added.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail Public comment limited The Ashland School District board of directors will decide the fate of both Briscoe and Lincoln elementary schools during a regular meeting Monday night.

Although the public is invited to attend, public comments will be limited.

In addition, the board will discuss reassignment of teachers if one or both elementary schools are closed.

The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. at Ashland City Hall, 1175 E. Main St., inside the council chambers. For more information, contact the Ashland school administrative office at 482-2811.