Jackson Elementary PTO President Tracee Turner, center, and other parents await a decision from the Medford School Board about where Jackson’s primary pupils will attend classes next year. - Roy Musitelli

Jackson kids will use Naval Center

The Medford School Board chose the former Naval Center Tuesday to host Jackson Elementary's primary pupils for the next two years until a replacement grade school is constructed.

Board members voted 4-to-1 in favor of remodeling the former Naval Reserve, also the former West Side School, at 3070 Ross Lane to temporarily hold Jackson classes for grades kindergarten through 3.

Officials decided last week to shutter Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools because engineers declared it structurally unsafe.

Last week's decision accompanied a plan to send Roosevelt's primary pupils to Hoover Elementary. Jackson and Roosevelt students in grades 4 through 6 were assigned to attend their respective middle schools, McLoughlin and Hedrick.

"I want to get out of a building I know is not safe," said Jackson Principal Tom Ettel. "There is no air-conditioning. The air is stale. The West Side is just a problem because it's out of the Jackson neighborhood."

The former Naval Reserve, vacated last October, was one of five options the School Board considered for the displaced primary students from Jackson.

Some parents of Jackson students favored the option of keeping primary pupils on campus in portable buildings because families depend on the school being within walking distance to check their children's progress and to access a variety of services such as a free on-campus clinic.

Board members decided against that option because they felt it would limit architects' ability to design a replacement school and might create an unsafe and distracting environment for pupils.

Board Member Peggy Penland disagreed, voting against the West Side option because she felt sending them there would diminish family involvement at the school, who are largely low-income.

"We have completely ignored them," Penland said.

Board members also considered setting up portable buildings on the campuses of Jacksonville, Howard or Kennedy elementary schools.

But they favored the West Side School because it would give Jackson pupils their own campus and reduce the number of portable buildings the district would need to lease.

"I think we need to look at safety first and how to best educate kids, and I think the West Side is the best way to do that," said Board Member Cynthia Wright.

Renovating the West Side School also would be an investment for the district, which could later lease the space out to a charter school or other entity, board members said.

Kathy Greager, mother of Jackson second-grader Connor and fourth-grader Eden, said the decision to send primary pupils to the Naval Reserve would reduce her presence at the school.

"I have been walking to the school every day to help my son who has autism get through his days," Greager said. "I won't be able to do that anymore, especially since I'm going to homeschool my daughter because I don't want her attending McLoughlin."

Ettel said he and other community members plan to seek donations and volunteers to operate a shuttle between the Jackson neighborhood and the West Side School, so that parents can stay involved in school activities.

"Some parents will want to come to the school all day; some will need to come out just for PTO meetings and events," Ettel said. "We need to find out parents' needs."

It will cost about $350,000 to remodel the West Side School. That involves removing asbestos, refinishing surfaces, roof repairs and reconfiguring walls.

Engineers recently found crumbling bricks and failing trusses at Roosevelt and Jackson, both built in 1911, that could result in a collapse in the event of an earthquake.

The finding prompted the immediate shutdown of both schools, sending shock waves through the schools' respective communities.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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