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District content to let buildings sit

Almost two years after Smith Elementary School was closed in the spring of 2005, the building in Southwest Portland remains empty — unsold, unused and unleased by the Portland school district. The same situation exists with the former Applegate Elementary School building in North Portland — also closed after the spring of 2005. And the school district has no current plans to immediately reuse, sell or rent the additional three school buildings — Clarendon and Rose City Park elementary schools and Kellogg Middle School — that will be emptied after this spring. Portland Public Schools property development manager Kerry Hampton said district officials are looking for funds to support more pre-kindergarten programs, and will be analyzing how the mergers of several elementary and middle schools into K-8 programs affect the need for buildings throughout the district. “At this point, it’s time to step back and do some planning, both short range and long range,” Hampton said. “That’s what we’re going to do with these buildings — just hold here until we have a better look at where we want to go and where the trends are going.” But that “holding” will mean several buildings won’t be used or generating revenue for at least the near future. Hampton said if district officials decided to lease out any of the four, leases probably wouldn’t start until at least the fall of 2008. The district has tried to lease Applegate and Smith, and has received offers. But all of the offers — including from some former Smith parents who are part of a group proposing a charter school in Southwest Portland — were far below what the school district believes it can get in rent, Hampton said. Hampton said school district officials want to rent the buildings for $9 to $12 per square foot per year — which is roughly what De La Salle North Catholic High School is paying for the former Kenton Elementary School building in North Portland. For Smith, $9 per square foot per year would amount to about $340,000. Each of the several offers for Smith were far below that, Hampton said. Supporters of the proposed Southwest Charter School said they offered the district about $90,000 per year over 10 years for the building. “I would consider someone who offers me less than 25 percent of market (rate) eminently rejectable,” Hampton said, referring to the group’s first-year rent offer of $65,000. Hampton said it makes more sense for the district to maintain the buildings at a very basic level and wait for better offers. In the meantime, however, the buildings sit empty, generating no revenue. David Smith, a board member of Southwest Charter and parent of a former Smith student, said district officials might be overly optimistic on the buildings’ rental values. He pointed to the offers that came in far below $9 per square foot. “The ultimate answer is let the market determine it,” Smith said. “And the market has determined that $9 to $12 per square foot for some of these buildings is too high.” — Todd Murphy