Talent hopes to add Community Center to register

TALENT — A $4,000 Oregon Community Foundation grant to the city could help make the 1899 Community Center, the town's former schoolhouse, just the second building in the downtown area added to the National Register of Historic Places.

City Planner Mark Knox, who will oversee an application funded by the grant to place the building on the register, said the listing would allow the city to go after special grants for improvements. Knox is optimistic the effort will succeed given the building's architecture and importance to the community.

"The idea would be to both get it recognized and over the years apply for grants to upgrade the building," said Knox.

Constructed as the Talent Public School in 1899, the building has served the community almost continuously since that time.

Classes were held at the site for 12 years until a larger building was completed at the present Talent Elementary School site. A heavy drape divided the main room which dominates the interior into two classrooms.

In 1914, the school district sold the building to the city of Talent, which has used it as a community center ever since. City Council meetings and other events are held in the center. Last Saturday the Lion's Club hosted a pancake breakfast in the building during the centennial Harvest Festival. The center is portrayed on a centennial belt buckle.

An Eagle Scout project to uncover old transom windows in the 1990s led to a five-year community effort that resulted in complete rewiring, a new heating system, new bathrooms, attic insulation, and window and trim repair. "The thing that I really like a lot is that we had the front doors rebuilt so they re-created the original doors," said Marla Cates, a leader of the restoration.

In addition, a sagging bell tower that houses a 300-pound bell was raised and stabilized. Concrete entrance steps were replaced by replicas of the original design.

Restoration was funded by city money, donations and historical fund grants, in addition to hours of volunteer labor. The work was finished in 1999 and cost $51,000.

Cates wrote to OCF about a grant for listing when she learned the group was seeking candidates for a fund it administers. The Robertson E. Collins Fund supports historic preservation in Southern Oregon. Collins was noted for his preservation efforts in Jacksonville.

"Our intent is to get leverage on the grants. We don't have massive amounts of money," said David Collins, a fund advisor and nephew of Robertson Collins. "We felt that registration would be an example and an inspiration and might prompt other people to move forward, as well."

Talent School House was designated a primary historic resource in a survey of downtown historical and cultural resources done in the mid-1990s, said Cates. Hanscom Hall at Wagner Street and Talent Avenue is on the register.

A specialist in historic listing applications will probably be hired, said Knox. Applications can cost several thousand dollars and extensive building histories are compiled.

An interior face lift is needed to bring the space into the modern era, said Knox. He said the building could also benefit from more energy-efficient mechanical systems.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.

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