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Public needs to weigh in on future of old school buildings

One of the questions that Central Oregonian staff members have been asked since local leaders first started promoting a bond for a new school was what would become of the Ochoco and Crooked River Elementary School buildings.

Starting in fall 2015, students from those schools will either attend the new school or Cecil Sly Elementary, depending on how boundaries are drawn, and the other two facilities will be vacated.

Several months later, with the bond passed and construction on the new school under way, school leaders have now turned their attention to the future of the buildings. Last week, the school board and district project manager Jerry Milstead broached the topic and opinions tended to vary within the group.

Milstead noted that maintenance money has been allocated to the two buildings, both of which have been deemed more expensive to repair than to replace. He questioned whether it made sense to spend repair dollars on the facilities.

At the same time, he noted that the district relies on the Crooked River buildings, which cover four city blocks, for other purposes. Crooked River Principal Cheri Rasmussen added that the district may find need for the buildings as school enrollment exceeds the capacity of the two remaining schools.

School leaders are far from reaching a concrete solution and we feel, given the historical significance of the buildings and their potential use down the road, that they should proceed cautiously and engage the public early and often.

We see the benefits of keeping buildings – enrollment overflow and Crook County Parks and Recreation’s use of the Crooked River gym as its skating rink.

Then again, removal of the Crooked River complex would enable city public works staff to consider an extension of Second Street to alleviate traffic on Third Street, another option we have heard on occasion.

Perhaps the school district can offer the buildings to another entity on a lease basis or even put enough money into them to sell them to an interested buyer. Who knows what business or agency might want to make use of an old school building.

These are big decisions the school board and staff will have to make and we feel they should take as much feedback as possible before taking action. While there is no way they can please everyone, they can at least act in a way that will benefit as many community members as possible.



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