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District likely won't rehab Briscoe

The fate of Briscoe Elementary is unlikely to be determined anytime soon, but at least one option will probably be scratched off the short list of local possibilities when the Ashland School Board reconvenes in October.

During the school board meeting Monday, Ashland superintendent Kelly Raymond announced the district agrees with a recommendation by the facilities committee that it stop investing resources into the 34,000-square-foot building and work toward unloading the 3.74-acre property, which has been closed to students since 2004. Although the board put off the vote until its meeting Oct. 9, Raymond’s statement left little doubt what will happen when it does.

“The facilities committee unanimously recommended at our last meeting that we no longer invest resources beyond maintaining the facility for needs of current tenants and the district move toward divesting the Briscoe property,” Raymond said.

Two organizations — Oregon Child Development Coalition and Lithia Art Guild — are each leasing half the building, an arrangement that netted the district an average of $147,000 per year between 2012 and 2016, according to public records. The problem lies in the building’s deferred maintenance, which was estimated at $6,591,749, according to a facility and capacity assessment report issued in 2005.

“If we wanted to rehab it into an active school site, it would have cost over $6 million, and that’s 2006 dollars,” Ely said. “So after factoring for inflation and construction costs and everything else, we’re probably looking at over $10 million today.”

According to board member Jim Westrick , the board’s hope is that the property, located at 265 N. Main St., will remain public, though a road to that end has yet to materialize.

“I think we need to look at what the options are,” he said Monday. “As we’ve said before, and I think this board is all in agreement, our first choice would be to keep that land in the public trust somehow, which would be the city — the parks department — because it would be nice that it still belongs to the people of Ashland in one form or another. We’re still pushing for that, I know we would like to see that happen.

Melissa Mitchelle-Hooge of Ashland Save Our Schools and Playgrounds, an organization dedicated in part to keeping both the Briscoe and Lincoln elementary sites in the public trust, also spoke at the meeting Monday during the time set aside for public comments. Mitchelle-Hooge, whose two grown sons attended Briscoe and still lives across the street from the school, said in a prepared statement that the building could still serve many civic uses, from a community center to yoga classes, and noted that the school's playground is still a popular destination for local families.

Mitchelle-Hooge said she’s working toward facilitating meetings that could lead to a resolution she believes would best serve the people of Ashland.

“Our main thing now is to try to get all three boards — the school board, the parks commission and the city council — to work together to come up with a permanent solution," she said. "We don’t ever want to go through this ordeal again.”

In an email to the Tidings, Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission Director Michael Black said the commissioners have adopted a motion to work with the school district to find a way to keep the park facilities in public ownership.

“We are working together,” he said, “but no deal has been reached. I do think it’s possible. We just haven’t found the deal that works best for both entities.”

— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.

Crystal Arnold and her children Alana, 7, and Cedar, 4, walk through the playground area at Briscoe School Wednesday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]