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Board may OK plans today

Proposals to permanently mothball two circa-1911 Medford elementary schools have been on and off again for nearly two years as part of a multimillion-dollar bond program to upgrade campuses.

Supporters of Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools hope today will mark the beginning of the schools' rejuvenation and eventual reopening.

The Medford School Board is expected to approve a plan that would allocate $24 million of the $189 million bond program toward renovating or rebuilding the two schools, both of which were closed last June because of structural weaknesses.

If approved, the schools could reopen as early as fall 2009.

The plan, proposed by board member Larry Nicholson, involves trimming $1 million from the $83 million budget to build a new South Medford High School at Columbus and Cunningham avenues and scrapping a $15 million project to renovate the existing South Medford into a middle school.

Opsis, the Portland-based architectural firm designing the Jackson and Roosevelt projects, today will present revised drawings for the schools and cost estimates for reconstruction versus renovation. The last estimates were about $13.3 million to rebuild each school and about $14.3 million to renovate each.

The district has asked the firm to pare down the cost of the project to $12 million each or less.

That has involved reducing the schools' overall square footage from about 55,000 to 50,000, said Opsis Principal Alec Holser.

The district is likely to demolish parts of the schools and rebuild rather than renovate. The estimate for renovation is about $1 million more for each school because of the increased time and complexity involved in bringing the schools up to current building codes for earthquake resistance.

Under code, the schools, both three levels of unreinforced brick masonry, would need an 8-inch concrete wall built inside the brick walls with new tie-ins to the roof, walls and foundations, Holser said. The brick also would have to be sealed to prevent crumbling, said Medford schools facilities director Mark Button.

Working around the existing structure, moving in confined spaces and facing uncertainty as to what contractors will find when they tear open a wall make renovation of the buildings more costly than reconstruction, Holser said.

A group formed to push for the reopening of Jackson and Roosevelt celebrated on Dec. 20 when school board members indicated they would likely vote to renovate or rebuild the schools.

But misgivings quickly followed the jubilation.

Known as Save Medford Schools, the group issued a letter to the school board less than two weeks later. In it, the group urged the school board to postpone the new South Medford project until the Jackson and Roosevelt renovations are complete, fearing that the high school project could eat up the elementary schools' budgets amid escalating construction costs.

The high school project's budget has mushroomed by 32 percent, from $63 million to $83 million, since the bond measure was approved in November 2006.

Three board members who were recently contacted — Mike Moran, Tricia Prendergast and Eric Dziura — have said they intend to proceed with the high school project at $82 million.

Jackson and Roosevelt — among the last campuses in Medford where all students can walk to school — were initially targeted for closure because of their relatively small student populations and structural deficiencies.

Their closures would fit into an overall plan to open the existing South Medford as a third middle school and move the sixth grade from the elementary level to middle school level, thereby reducing the need for two of the 14 elementary schools in the district.

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