District seeks second opinion

MEDFORD — The Medford School District hired engineering consultants Thursday for a second opinion on the safety of Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools, which were closed in June when an initial study determined they were unsafe.

Architect Peter Meijer and ABHT Structural Engineers, both Portland-based firms specializing in restoring historic buildings, will arrive in Medford next Thursday to begin their study of the circa 1911 buildings.

The study will involve a visual inspection and lab tests of the exterior brick to determine its structural integrity.

"I have full confidence in the original opinion of DCI Engineers, but I'm glad we're getting a second opinion," said Medford School Board President Mike Moran. "I think it will help guide us in making decisions in the next month."

The school board is tentatively set to decide Nov. 6 whether to renovate Jackson and Roosevelt as specified in the district's $189 million bond package, approved by voters in November, or keep the schools mothballed permanently.

Meijer and ABHT are expected to issue a report on their findings at Jackson and Roosevelt by the end of October.

Meijer assisted in the expansion of the historic Carnegie library in Ashland in 2002 and other projects across the state and nation.

"Old buildings are a terrific example of the culture of a place," Meijer said. "Without them, a large town or a small town would be lessened, but they must be able to respond to current needs."

About $10,000 has been earmarked for the study, said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long.

DCI Engineers, of Bellevue, Wash., determined in June that Jackson and Roosevelt would likely collapse in an earthquake because of crumbling brick and weak roof trusses.

The findings spurred the School Board to shutter both schools and disperse pupils among four other schools until they could determine whether the district could afford to renovate the schools.

Since then, some constituents have been calling for the district to obtain a second opinion before possibly deciding not to reopen the schools or scratching renovation projects there.

"I'm glad the district finally listened to us," said Mary Arquette, mother of a Jackson second-grader. "I strongly believe this study will make a difference. I believe it'll save our school."

But Moran warned that the board also would consider other factors such as elementary enrollment in its decision on the future of the two schools. Only about 80 percent of the district's student capacity is being used at its 18 campuses.

Costs for the 18 projects in the bond package have escalated more than $16.6 million in large part because of the structural problems at Jackson and Roosevelt and expenses associated with building a new South Medford High School at Columbus and Cunningham avenues.

District officials have indicated some projects might have to be abandoned to stay on budget.

The major bond projects include renovations to Jackson and Roosevelt, which climbed from about $15 million to $27 million because the structural problems; construction of a new South Medford High School, replacement of Lone Pine Elementary and renovations at North Medford High School and Oak Grove Elementary.

A district task force has pitched four options for trimming expenses from the bond package. Three of those options involve closing Jackson and Roosevelt permanently and either expanding middle schools to grades 6 through 8 or opening several kindergarten through eighth-grade schools at existing elementary and middle school campuses. A fourth option would refurbish the two historic elementary schools and scrap the project to build a new South Medford High School. Instead, the district would shift money to renovating the existing school.

For details on the bond options, visit www.medford.k12.or.us.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

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