Students offer visions for school property


Last updated 12/20/2022 at Noon

The Sisters School District (SSD) has been partnering with University of Oregon graduate students looking at possibilities for reconfiguration and reuse of the current elementary school property once the new elementary school construction is complete.

The new elementary school location makes the SSD campus c off highway 242 a complete K-12 campus. However, the historic and memory-filled current elementary school building will still be owned by the School District when the time comes to open the new location in September of 2024.

The graduate students from the University of Oregon (UO) are part of the Masters of Community and Regional Planning program, specifically the Sustainable City Year Project.

During the presentation last Wednesday evening to the school board and the Sisters Park & Recreation board, student representatives from the class, Annie Price and Katherine Rola, laid out the three different possibilities their class researched over the last 10 weeks as sustainable plans for the use of the elementary school land. Price and Rola are both first- year graduate students in the program. Over the course of a year, they will come up with a synthesized report of the reuse of the School District land by March 2023.

“We’ve had the opportunity to use the first quarter of graduate school to work with Sisters as part of our wonderful Sustainable City Year Project. We have been studying the makeup and importance of community structure, current research, andwe’ve had the opportunity to explore potential applications to Sisters,” said Price.

“We, in the first 10 weeks, looked at research, design, visited the location and what putting infrastructure in place would look like,” said Price.

Students looked at the survey results put out by Citizens4Community (C4C) that highlighted what citizens wanted to see as far as livability in Sisters.

Students also looked at population trends, age demographics, and other factors that would play into the best use of the land based on the growth of the community, the age of its members, and what the future of the town might look like. As well, they looked at the housing cost burden with lack of affordable housing and availability.

They also brought in elements of what transportation in the area might look like with the eventual addition of the roundabout at the intersection of Locust and Highway 20 and how that could affect what type of building use is there based on accessibility to it.

The students split up the possible reuse into three categories and reports. The first category was age-friendly, second was adaptive reuse (or housing development), and the third was a recreation area. Each category had a vision/values statement produced driven by values highlighted by documents and conversations with community members.

The students on the age-friendly neighborhood team looked at the possibility of green spaces, safe and connected pathways, built spaces for social gathering, and housing for all. They provided examples of what this might look like through visual aids of small housing units such as cottage courts, townhomes, etc.

The second category was adaptive reuse. This focused mainly on creating affordable housing options, especially for Sisters School District employees, as teachers struggle to find an affordable place to live locally in Sisters Country. The team’s vision statement was: “The Sisters School District will model sustainable rural development through there purposing of the Sisters Elementary School as a community hub that includes workforce housing for school district employees.”

They looked at an example of a Prineville elementary school hallway that was converted into 29 apartment units, providing a housing option to faculty and day care providers. A project like this would allow most of the structure of the building to remain the same as it has historically, just with a different purpose than a school.

There would be an option for a green space with the current field, community gathering spaces, housing for employees, and other adaptive reuses that meet the community’s needs equitably.

The third category option was a community and recreation center. This team’s focus and vision statement was: “The Whychus Creek Recreation Center [the name the team gave the space], is an accessible and connected recreation hub for intergenerational play to support a healthy, happy, and socially thriving Sisters community.”

The team looked at the option for many different recreational uses for the land, including a pool, more courts and fields for sports, accessibility to recreational activities for all ages. They looked at the interests in the community based on surveys, to determine what sort of recreational options could be available in this space.

There were common threads throughout each of the categories that were important to the team’s study as well as to the Sisters community. Those ranged from the need for affordable housing to having open and green spaces; safe transportation and safety and accessibility to options and locations on the land.

All the possibilities brought up are very much in their initial stages, and projects and planning such as this can take up to a decade, according to the students. Momentum is dependent on funding and community interest in a certain category. A project could become a combination of some of the categories.

The presentation was made to highlight the collaborative work UO students, Sisters Country, and SSD are doing to create a beneficial space to the community overall. There are many details and elements to iron out with projects such as this. Superintendent Curt Scholl is hopeful that providing options and dreaming up the possibilities will create the best possible use for the current elementary school land once the new location is up and running.


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