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School site's suitor gets nod

Retail space and condominiums proposed for long-vacant Washington Monroe High building in Southeast
by: JIM CLARK, Developer Brad Malsin, whose Beam Development LLC was selected to redevelop the former Washington Monroe High School site, said his goal for the mixed-use building was to “activate the streets, become engaged and connected to the neighborhood, make the streets safer.”

After sitting vacant for several years, the hulking behemoth of red brick in the Buckman neighborhood known as the former Washington Monroe High School is finally on track for redevelopment.

The Portland school board last week approved the Portland Schools Real Estate Trust's selection of Beam Development LLC to take on the project. The district still is negotiating with Beam on the terms of the sale, which could take four months.

Beam has proposed to pay the district a total of $9.25 million for the 2.6 acres of land at the northeast and southeast corners of the site, which border Southeast 14th Avenue and Stark Street.

Under the reins of Brad Malsin - known for his creative reuse work in the central east side - Beam proposes to turn the existing building into a five-story mixed-use building with commercial space on the ground floor and four floors (72 units) of one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums.

The entire building shell would be preserved and restored, and the interior architectural elements would be maintained, restored or reused in the project. In addition, Beam would put two rows of town houses at the west end of the property, all with sustainable building and design practices.

Malsin says that if all goes well with the negotiations, crews could break ground in four to six months and construction likely will take 12 to 18 months. Beam proposes to work with MCA Architects and Walsh Construction, and solicit design ideas from community members along the way.

Susan Lindsay, chairwoman of the Buckman Neighborhood Association, said she's thrilled to see that Beam has stepped up with a plan to creatively restore the old high school.

But she said she and other neighbors are concerned that the space will not be able to accommodate the traffic that the proposed retail space would draw, especially since the city has committed to building a community center on the west end of the property.

'We never wanted a lot of retail in the space,' she said. 'We primarily wanted it to be stable, owner-occupied units for families. We've got to have parking on-site. There's going to be some very interesting negotiations taking place around that.'

Malsin said he doesn't anticipate that the retail space would produce any problem; if anything, it should cut down on vehicle traffic and attract more foot traffic to the building.

'We feel that the retail space is absolutely necessary to activate the site,' he said. 'The goal is to encourage people to use public transportation and walk, ride bikes. The idea behind the whole development is to activate the streets, become engaged and connected to the neighborhood, make the streets safer.'

Malsin said he's begun talking with representatives of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office about listing the site, and they were enthusiastic.

'I love historic buildings,' he said. 'I see this as a great opportunity to preserve a building that is still well within its utilitarian life span. It's exciting to take part of history and make it into something people can become a part of.'

The high school closed in 1981, after which district administrators and nonprofit organizations used part of the building for office space. The building was completely vacated in 2004, after the city bought the west side of the property with the intent to build a community center.

The school was temporarily reopened in 2005 to serve victims of Hurricane Katrina, but other than that it has sat empty, with its windows boarded up and some vandalism on the exterior.

The timeline for the community center still is unknown; a spokeswoman for Portland Parks and Recreation said the bureau is looking for money in the city budget to do a feasibility study on the project.

For now, Lindsay is glad to see at least one piece of the property getting some TLC. 'The inner east-side neighborhoods have been neglected for a long time,' she said, 'and they're an essential part of the health and welfare of the city.'

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