News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Community ponders future of school site

A new elementary school to replace the existing one in Sisters is scheduled to be completed to start the 2023 school year. That leaves the school district and the citizens of Sisters to answer the question: What should be done with the property and buildings on the current site?

One of the first steps of the process took place on Monday, November 15, when the Citizens4Community (C4C) hosted a Zoom meeting to begin gathering input from interested members of the community.

The 90-minute meeting was facilitated by C4C director Linda Cline and board member Jim Barnett. The purpose of the meeting was two-pronged: to elicit ideas about what should be done with the property, and to define the process in which decisions should be made.

City Manager Cory Misley answered a key question about the way the property is currently zoned. It is zoned “Public Use.” Misley explained that zones can be amended slightly, but to change zones completely would “be a much more intensive process.”

Edie Jones represented the Sisters School Board at the meeting. She explained that the Board, which will ultimately approve the final decision on the property, had not made any preconceived decisions and said that the board is very interested in hearing what the community has to say.

“It is a wonderful building and has all kinds of possibilities, and we would like you all to think broadly as to what that building could be used for and how it will best serve the community,” she said. “There has been no decision as to keeping or selling, or what will be done with it.”

Superintendent Curt Scholl underlined Jones’ comments: “Edie and I are here to report back to the board and we are really listening and look forward to hearing what the community has to say.”

Scholl alluded to current and future partnerships with Sisters Park & Recreation District (SPRD), and SPRD Executive Director Jennifer Holland affirmed that conversations have been ongoing about the potential for the property.

While no decisions have been made, comments at the meeting tended strongly toward keeping the property and its buildings for public use in order to be able to reclaim it, in part at least, for potential future school district needs. Current projections for growth over the next 20 years indicate that the school district would likely need space for students in the future.

Scholl explained that the new elementary school is being designed for kindergarten through fifth grade with a capacity of about 600. Those grades currently include around 430 students.

The elementary school building currently includes over 42,000 square feet of useable space and is described by Scholl as “being in good shape.” Once comments began to flow many people touched on the concept of a community center but with a wide variety of what could be included in such a center as a multiuse complex.

Ideas included:

•?Community education for all ages

•?Cultural events

•?Community events and gatherings that could take advantage of the commercial kitchen

•?Guest speakers and lecturers

•?Early childhood education

•?Dog park

•?Public swimming pool

•?Convention center

•?Historical society/museum.

One speaker, Diane Goble, noted that a group focused on community assets back in 2014 elicited some similar ideas but also included the discussion of a winter sports park, an art history/science museum, and a field house.

She also suggested that perhaps a medical facility could be housed on the site, such as an urgent care, to meet the needs of the increasing population and to serve tourists.

Margaret Smith referenced a book called “Palaces for the People,” by Eric Klingenberger that focuses in part on healthy communities having public spaces where people can gather informally — places where a variety of activities take place and where people of all ages are coming and going. She said that Klingenberger ascertained from his research that because communities become more connected when they have such public places, they also cope better when the community faces some sort of trauma or natural disaster, such as a heat wave or forest fire.

Another speaker mentioned the Lincoln County Cultural Center in Lincoln City, Oregon, as a potential model. The center hosts small dinner concerts, a variety of community classes, holiday bazaars, service club meetings, art exhibits, farmer’s markets, and other special events.

The community center concept would likely involve SPRD quite heavily, though not necessarily exclusively. Jennifer Holland, the director at SPRD, acknowledged that many of the ideas being presented are natural for an organization like SPRD. She said that SPRD could certainly use more green space and gym space and that it is easy to envision many uses for the elementary property.

Colleen McNerney spoke on behalf of the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter, which has struggled to have a place of their own to better provide further services to houseless people such as charging their phones, getting a meal, taking a shower, or being able to laundry.

Bruce Carpenter gave a plug for the addition of public pickleball courts for both local citizens and tourists.

Regarding the process of how the final decisions on the property will be made, a number of commenters expressed the importance that people from all ages and walks of life be involved in the generation of ideas, including parents of young children, and senior citizens, as well as school-aged children and teens.

One speaker suggested that C4C and/or the school district should open up the current elementary to conduct tours of the facility, so community members can really get a feel for its potential and that a steering committee should be formed to work through the various well-developed options. Scholl said that community surveys and future community forums would provide avenues for input and updates in the process.

Only one participant asked about the pros and cons of selling the elementary school property rather than keeping it intact for public use.

Scholl said that the only real benefit to selling the property would be to have funds for capital projects in the district, but the biggest downside of selling would be losing the ability to have the facility on hand when future growth takes place.

One commenter asked whether enough parking would be available to accommodate a multi-purpose community center. Scholl explained that the area where the old bus barn was housed would be available in addition to the current parking areas.

The entire Zoom meeting is now available on C4C’s website, which will also include information on future opportunities for input on the issue. View the discussion at: https://www.citizens4



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