School District, Forest Service negotiate

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - The building was last used as a school in 1988.The Three Lynx school building — long a part of the Estacada School District — has a lot of history, especially for those negotiating its fate.

The Three Lynx community came into being during the construction of the Oak Grove dam in the 1920s.

Portland General Electric set up “kit” homes for its workers during the project.

Seventeen houses from that community still stand today. Roughly half are occupied by PGE employees and their families.

In 1927, the U.S. Forest Service issued a permit for the operation of the Three Lynx School on its land.

But the building hasn’t been used as a school since 1988, which puts the school district in violation of its special-use permit.

“Since 1988, the Forest Service has been working with the school district to come up with a good plan,” said Laura Pramuk, Mt. Hood National Forest public affairs officer.

The situation is uncomfortable.

The school district owns the building, the Forest Service owns the land and PGE supplies water and sewer services to the school building and owns the surrounding Three Lynx houses.

The district has three options that are acceptable to the Forest Service:

1. Use the buildings for their stated purpose under the special-use permit as a school. This would require extensive renovation to bring the buildings up to code and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal, state and county regulations and laws.

2. Tear down the buildings and restore the site to nature.

3. Get someone to buy the buildings. The buyer would have to demonstrate financial and technical capability of restoring the buildings to their original purpose as a school. Or they’d have to be granted another special-use permit after presenting a feasible business plan and financial and technical capability of using the buildings for a purpose that comply with the Forest Service’s regulations and mission. Any purpose acceptable to the Forest Service would have an environmental and educational theme.

“That’s been a pretty constant message since 1988,” said Jennifer Wade, Forest Recreation Lands program manager, of the district’s options.

In 1988, when it was clear that the building no longer was used as a school, “next steps” were identified, she said.

In 2009, she said, the Forest Service “reiterated” the need for a choice to be made.

“I think over the years the Forest Service has recognized the (financial) position the school district is in,” Wade said.

In 2009, the Forest Service issued a study permit to allow the district to consider its options, make a decision and come up with a plan. When it expired, the district was granted another 120 days. Then six more months.

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - A back view of the Three Lynx school building and old playground equipment.“We’ve been working with (the school district) to give them additional time to meet the intent of that study permit... And to facilitate that, (Permit Administrator) Joy (Woodcock) has been meeting with the district once a month,” Wade said.

But the Forest Service is firm that the school district needs to have a viable plan by November.

“These six months are not time to run around and try to find money,” Woodcock said.

“Our goal isn’t that we get a final product on Nov. 1. But we’re working with (the school district) to have a successful option that we can all work with on Nov. 1,” Wade said.

The school district is in a quandary.

It can’t afford to bring the building up to code and can’t afford to demolish it. So district officials have been hoping for a buyer. For a long time.

“If we had the money, this wouldn’t be a problem,” said Estacada School District Superintendent Howard Fetz. “We don’t have the money to tear it down and we don’t have the money to restore it. We need more time. That’s the bottom line.”

Fetz had lived in the head teacher’s apartment above the school since 1999.

He left the residence early this year in order to “depersonalize” the issue.

Fetz said several district administrators before him have occupied the apartment.

“I think it is fair to note that both when Three Lynx was functioning as a school, and since its closure there has been a long-standing practice of providing housing at Three Lynx for administrators in the district,” Fetz wrote in an email. “In my case, my residence there was part of my (school) board-approved ‘terms of employment,’ ensuring that there was a constant presence at Three Lynx to avoid frozen pipes, vandalism, etc.”

Fetz noted that former Estacada Junior High School Principal Robert Espenel lived in the apartment before him.

While he no longer lives there, it’s clear that Fetz cares deeply about the building.

“The reality of it is, it’s still a perfectly good building, and it would be a shame to tear it down for no good reason,” he said.

He added that many community members have ties to the building as well.

Over the years, the school building was used by groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls and for administrative retreats. Training programs have taken place there.

“It’s disappointing, of course, to think that the district won’t be able to keep the building ... but the economic realities make it impossible,” said Jane Reid, chairwoman of the Estacada Area Arts Commission.

Reid said she grew fond of the building two years ago when local artists visited the Three Lynx Community and Oak Grove powerhouse as part of their “Powerhouse Project art jam” partnership with PGE.

She noted that while the artists mused over the beauty of the site and how nice it would be to use the building as a “base camp,” there hasn’t been an “organized awareness effort” on the part of the arts community to save the building.

Reid said they’d just come along too late in the process to be hopeful of raising the funds to save the building.

“It just may be too late, and that’s too bad — unless someone would purchase it. That’s the dream,” she said.

Around five years ago, large groups were prohibited from using the facility due in part to PGE’s statement that the utility company no longer could provide water and sewer services to accommodate large groups.

Eventually, groups of any size were prohibited from using the building.

The buildings stand mostly empty now, aside from storage. Classroom posters from the late 1980s peel eerily from the walls.

When Estacada School District Operations Manager Gary Lewis gave a tour of the building, he used the opportunity to take a mental assessment of the items he’ll need to remove from the structure by Oct. 15.

There are tables, random video cassettes, old band and basketball uniforms, a stray playground horse.

Lewis commented on the high quality wood of the gym’s floor. Someone could pay good money for that.

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Estacada School District Operations Manager Gary Lewis shows off some antique hand rings left in the Three Lynx school gym.As he walked through the hallways and up narrow stairways, Lewis remarked on how expensive it would be to bring the building up to code. Just to be ADA compliant, ramps would have to be added and walkways widened.

“That’s always been cost prohibitive for us,” he said.

As he locked up the building, Lewis said, “In Ireland you kind of embrace old buildings and history. Here you just kind of tear it all down. That’s what I’m afraid will happen to this. Hopefully someone will come along who will want to put the time and money into restoring it.”

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