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Preserving old Tualatin school right thing to do

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Yvonne Addington is vice president of the Tualatin Historical Society.)

After retiring from 35 years of successful public service at the city, county, state and federal level, I have learned to pick my public causes carefully. My highest criteria for advocacy of a project is, 'It's just the right thing to do.'

Preserving the old Tualatin Elementary School and site seems to be the right thing for the involved public officials to do. However, in spite of a significant demonstration of continued public need, the buildings and 12.75-acre site have been declared 'surplus' and are now very close to being sold for development. Proposals were due Dec. 3 to the Tigard-Tualatin School Board. Existing zoning might allow up to 10 dwellings per acre. I believe the board and other local agencies, which have a continued need for land and buildings, should have a second look before losing it forever.

I prefer to work within the system and sent an unacknowledged letter to the Tigard-Tualatin School Board in February 2004 regarding preservation, so this in not a last minute effort. I have attended several public meetings and spoken on behalf of the Tualatin Historical Society, which supports preservation of the 'brick school building' built in 1939 by local efforts and a federal job creation program which was needed by local citizens in the Depression years.

The building is on the city's historic preservation list, but the high sales price established by the school district, cost of upgrading the buildings and a small, narrow survey of a few citizens, has left the Tualatin City Council with a lack of funds and interest in the site, even though they need larger centralized administration facilities.

The school land was planned for perpetual public use, open space and recreation as early as 1974. The plan was for a population of 25,000 in the next 20 years, before Metro mandated higher densities for more population. Tualatin city population has exceeded that now and is still growing, which would stand to support the continued need for additional recreation and open space in that area. Plans then were to work with the school district to develop ball fields and outdoor recreation, similar to the cooperative effort when the city provided $4 million to provide artificial turf on the Tualatin High School ball field.

Upon attending the Tualatin Tomorrow meeting last month, I heard many of the 200 or so people attending express a continued urgent need for indoor sports and cultural facilities (the maple gym floor and stage would help provide these), ball fields, public administration offices and other needs. A teen leader at the meeting said that lacking adequate facilities and programs, many teens 'hang out' at Bridgeport Village or Washington Square while others just 'hang out wherever.'

The Tualatin School House Food Pantry, which provides basic food for the working poor, children, the unemployed and vulnerable citizens who can't work, has been moved out of the brick building to portables and lacks a permanent home to help needy citizens; the resource center which was in the school building had to leave town to find new quarters, even though there is as large a need as ever to help people in need.

So, what about the money?

The school district could bring the price down for other public services which taxpayers pay for and allow more time for negotiations. Local governments need to look at using existing resources and sites before having to purchase more land and buildings at higher costs. They could work together to meet many public needs by using this site as a 'civic campus.'

The voters just passed a Metro bond measure to provide more money for open space. Voters just approved money for Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue for equipment and facilities. According to the newspapers, they are looking at a more central site in the district for administrative facilities and are looking at Wilsonville. Why not the school building site in the 'heart of the Tualatin Valley' in the city where the Tualatin Fire Department began in 1939? If they worked with the school district, city of Tualatin and other public agencies, they might be able to share the land, preserve a historic building and provide recreation and other needed facilities of benefit and savings to citizens of all ages in the entire area. There must be more needs.

I know public officials get tired of a rather demanding public which at times is unwilling to pay for needed facilities. However, rather than lose the land and buildings forever, or face potential lawsuits which seem to be used at times to prevent demolitions and loss of these facilities, or requiring tax dollars at a much greater cost in the future for new land and facilities, there are many of us who are asking the involved public officials to have a second look before declaring this site 'surplus.' It may never be cheaper. Many of us feel it is 'just the right thing to do.'