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Something old or something new?

Riverdale board to decide fate of Dolye building

The Riverdale school board faces a decision on Monday that lies somewhere between the past and the future. The crux of that decision is the 1920 grade school constructed by famous Portland archtict A.E. Doyle. As of a Sept. 18 meeting, the school board seemed to be leaning toward a future approach, but neighbors who look back fondly on the past are hoping for a compromise.

At the meeting the board, which has been exploring options for a much-need renovation since September of 2007, recommended tearing down the main Doyle building and the outlying buildings to replace them with a brand new building.

Libby Dawson Farr, a Riverdale alum and architectural historian, has focused her academic study and lectures on Doyle's protégé Pietro Belluschi and has done research on Doyle, as well. 'His knowledge of classical architecture was apparent in significant buildings... including the Central Library, Meier and Frank, U.S. National Bank, etc.,' she said. 'It would be a crying shame to have the Riverdale District not know better and demolish Riverdale School. I just can't believe it could happen. It would be disgraceful and disrespectful and a huge mistake.

'If Riverdale is interested in demonstrating to the community and the present and future students the importance of cultural and architectural history - then the only answer is to integrate it into the new designs,' said Farr. 'And that can cleverly be done.'

Yet the board recommended the Doyle building's demolition this fall wanting to give voters more information before they voted on a $21 million bond measure that would support the renovation. 'We were hearing from the community that they weren't going to vote on just a blank check,' said Board Chair Chris Hall.

The board had been looking at keeping the façade of the Doyle ever since they first started planning in September 2007, said Hall. However, this spring their planning took a turn when they realized how preserving the building may mean sacrifices to the vision they had for educational programs.

The original building was built for 50 students. The current enrollment of 320 students has meant multiple additions and renovations to the main building, as well as, the construction of five other buildings on the campus. To name a few problems, the building is plagued with aging boilers, corroded pipes, a leaky roof, inefficient insulation, limited classroom space, outdated electrical systems, seismic concerns and unsafe building placement.

'If we just keep a building because we like it it doesn't address the educational needs,' said Superintendent Terry Hoagland. He added that a lot of people are talking about it amongst themselves but that the board is looking for ideas, not just complaints.

An initial estimate in February said preserving the façade of the Doyle would cost about $1 million. That plan, drawn up by Mahlum Architects, was based on renderings that included renovation options with or without the Doyle building.

Some neighbors, who had given input during a survey, assumed the district would preserve the building. Hall said that there was no direct question on the survey asking neighbors if they wanted to keep or destroy the Doyle.

For Steve Jewell, finding out about the board's recommendation in the district's October newsletter was upsetting. Jewell has lived in the district for 21 years. Up until that news he had been in favor of the bond measure. But now he couldn't in good conscience vote for the bond if it meant tearing down the Doyle building.

'The school is what makes us a community instead of just a suburban neighborhood,' said Jewell, and '(The Doyle building) creates a sense of place. It connects the community and if we lose that we lose something that's connected us for years.'

Jewell and his wife Stephanie sent a letter to their neighbors asking them to vote no.

Then November election results came back favorable for the board - 55 percent yes and 45 percent no. Yet, Jewell feels they were not a completely accurate picture of the community's will. Lewis and Clark College voters accounted for about 25 percent of the votes, and they voted 75 percent in favor of the bond. If you leave out those votes, the results would have been extremely close.

Later they started an online petition to show the board that community members care deeply about keeping the Doyle building - so far, they have about 600 signatures. In addition to current voters, many of the signatures are alumni who are away at college (due to the rallying effect of Facebook); and others were people who have lived in the community in the past, said Jewell. He did delete any names that had false email addresses.

The group of preservationists is a mix of those who feel that the entire building should be saved entirely and those who feel at least the façade can be saved.

One factor in the decision is the board's wish to gain the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the new grade school. Preservationists, like Jewell, are saying, however, that it is more 'green' to re-use the old building than to tear it down.

'There is imbedded enery in an old building,' said Jewell, who has become familiar with the 'sustainable stewardship' concept of Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Using Moe's calculations, Jewell said, 'If the new building were LEED platinum certified (the highest rating for a 'green' building), and 45 percent of the materials in the Doyle building were reused in the new building, it would take 65 years to recover the energy lost in demolishing the Doyle building.'

Jewell hopes the board will attempt to model the work done on the Portland Armory's transformation into the Gehring Theater in 2006. It was the first historic rehabilitation on the National Historic Register to achieve a LEED platinum rating.

At their meeting on Nov. 24, the board delayed a final decision on the matter asking Mahlum Archicts, to draft a new plan incorporating the Doyle building. The estimate should be firmer than the February estimate, said Hall. It will portray both scenarios 'to the extent that can be done without a final design… and try to keep it as apples to apples that it can,' said Hall.

He estimated a 10 percent or even 20 percent drop in costs due to the current economic conditions. However, he said that just because the economy makes it easier for a project like this doesn't mean that the board will choose to save the Doyle. 'It's not just about the money. It's about what's the best for this campus as well as sight planning for the next 50 and 100 years,' he said.

The board needs to make a decision at the Dec. 15 meeting. Even that is really pushing the board's timeline to get the project going, said Hoaglund. 'If we take any longer we may throw this off another year.'