The regional housing authority is hosting a ceremony Aug. 15 before construction work begins

JASON CHANEY - The classrooms at the Ochoco Elementary building will be converted to housing units.

Housing Works is about to start renovation work on the Ochoco Elementary School building it purchased, and they want the public to help them celebrate.

The regional housing authority, which is planning to convert the vacated school into an affordable housing unit complex, is hosting the Ochoco School Crossing Groundbreaking Ceremony on Tuesday morning.

Keith Wooden, director of real estate for Housing Works, acknowledges that the event will not be a true groundbreaking, featuring people throwing golden shovels full of dirt. But the event, which includes light refreshments, will serve as the kick-off event to renovation and rehabilitation of the facility.

"We anticipate starting construction work in the next two weeks," he said, adding that a little bit of work has already begun on the detached cafeteria building that will later house a Head Start classroom. "We made it to the finish line, and we are full steam ahead."

The Ochoco Elementary renovation effort represents a departure from the norm for Housing Works, Wooden said. Nevertheless, the organization is eager to finish the facility and open it to the community.

"This is such a cool project, and we have had so many different groups from the city and the region look at this project and all of its positive benefits," he said.

The new facility, once completed, will feature 29 low-income dwellings converted from classrooms and ranging in size from studio to three bedrooms. Those units will be made available to people who earn 50 percent or less of the area median income.

"The units should be very nice," Wooden remarked.

But that is just part of what Housing Works has planned for the 6-acre property. A fully operational gymnasium that Wooden said is in excellent condition will be made available to the Crook County Parks and Recreation District on a "dollar-a-year lease type of thing" to support its various programs.

"Prineville doesn't really have a community center right now," Wooden noted, "so this will be that community center that they can utilize."

The cafeteria will likewise be leased to NeighborImpact to provide space for the organization's Head Start and early learning programs.

"To the east of the property, there is a very large field that we partitioned," Wooden continued. "The northern part of that field is going to be leased to NeighborImpact as well. They are the operator of a food bank, and they are going to use that field for production of food."

The south portion of the field, meanwhile, will be converted to a park that will be operated by the Parks and Recreation District.

The majority of the construction early on will not likely grab the attention of drivers who pass by the old school, Wooden said. The contractor is expected to start with demolition-related projects, including asbestos abatement, as they replace the floors of the facility and remove the boiler and its pipes. Roof replacement will likely take place early, but the bulk of the exterior work like window replacement and landscaping will likely wait until spring.

"Normally, they do that outside appearance stuff last," he stated.

Housing Works is hoping to conclude construction and start moving people into the new facility by June of next year.

"We are pretty excited about what the property can become," Wooden concluded.

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