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Ashland may convert former school into City Hall

When members of the city of Ashland’s City Hall Ad Hoc Committee meet in two weeks they can expect an earful from local residents who live near Briscoe School. The school closed in 2004, but the Ashland School District has continued to maintain it, including the playground and open fields around the school.

Now, however, the district is considering selling the property and the city is considering purchasing it for use as a new City Hall.

The current downtown City Hall on the Plaza could collapse in a major earthquake, a prospect that has prompted the city to consider other options. Those options including renovating the current building, which would cost an estimated $7.4 million dollars, or moving the city offices elsewhere.

Briscoe School, at 265 North Main St., is on the list of possible places.

Resident Peter Warren, who lives on Beach Street and often uses Lincoln School’s playground as well as Briscoe's, said while he might favor the move, he does not want to see the open space around the school used for a parking lot.

“Parking lots will be a thing of the past,” he said, noting a move toward autonomous vehicles. Warren said it’s important to keep community gathering places intact rather than making more room for cars even as the city is trying to reduce its carbon footprint.

Melissa Mitchell Hoagie said she supports the City Hall possibility, but with a condition. “We prefer to have the school go to a public entity rather than a private owner,” she said, noting the school has intrinsic and historic value and is an amenity for the neighborhood. “We urge the city to go to the neighbors and see how they feel.”

No proposals have been presented to the Ashland City Council. The 14-member Ad Hoc Committee, which includes three city staffers and 11 members of the community, is looking at several options. Others include expanding the building capacity at Winburn Way where the city currently has planning offices or building a new structure on the public parking lot at North Pioneer Street and Lithia Way.

City councilors won't weigh in until the proposal is officially presented to them, at which time there will be public hearings for residents to air concerns.

“I would really like to see the playground preserved and not turned into a parking lot,” Tiki McClure told the council at its business meeting Tuesday. She said the playground and open fields add not only tangible space and value but the value of sharing moments of importance within the community. “There have been movies, birthday parties, flashlight tag, people learning to ride bikes there.”

McClure recalled the neighborhood coming together on a snow day and sledding on the hillside. “It makes our neighborhood.”

The school takes up the block bounded by North Main, South Laurel, High and Manzanita streets.

Before making a recommendation, the committee will also conduct a cost analysis.

The next public meeting of the City Hall Ad Hoc Committee will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, at the Methodist Church, 175 North Main St.

—Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

Briscoe School in Ashland is among the options being considered for a new City Hall. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]