CANNON BEACH — City leaders are looking to the community for input on what to do with property and a former school that hold both cultural and historic significance.
On Thursday, city councilors and administrators hosted the first of four public input sessions this month. While there has long been a hope to create a community center at the site, the city is entertaining any number of ideas. Given the condition of the buildings, however, upgrades and remodels are expected to come with a hefty price tag.
Cannon Beach acquired the former elementary school on Beaver Street near Ecola Creek in July 2020 after several previous attempts to purchase the property over the years.
Mayor Sam Steidel said he first broached the topic of purchasing the school property just over 10 years ago.
Now, he wrote in a recent report, “the property is ours, the city purchased the site lock, stock and barrel shape. The leaks are now ours to fix and the emptiness is ours to fill.”
The main school buildings, built in the 1950s with a portable classroom that was added in 1967, have been vacant for about nine years, according to a building evaluation report prepared for the city in August.
The buildings are considered to be in poor to fair condition. The engineering and architecture firm that prepared the report for the city recommended incremental updates to ease the burden of the repair and improvement work.
In a cost breakdown, the report estimates it would cost around $23,000 to stop the deterioration of the buildings and around $410,000 to obtain occupancy. To create a community center, which would involve major renovation work, total costs could hit nearly $4 million.
The property acquisition is a very positive moment for the community, Steidel wrote.
“We have a project that bears inspiration and promises future activity,” he wrote. “Even if we fight about one specific detail over another, each opinion may hold fun and a good potential outcome. We could use some positivity, right?”
He hopes to be overwhelmed with “all kinds of concepts, dreams, visions and whatnot. This will be a brainstorm of a community scale,” he wrote. “No idea will be demeaned, all ideas will be heard.”
At the work session Thursday night, city councilors saw some of the ideas submitted so far for both indoor and outdoor spaces available at the property: a commercial kitchen, a concert venue and concert hall, a community garden, a community center, a community dog park, parking.
In the recent past, there was a desire to create a cultural center for the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes if the city ever succeeded in acquiring the school.
It is believed the site was once the home of a native village. The city already owned a northern portion of the site and honored the tribes’ history there by naming the open, grassy area near Ecola Creek NeCus’ Park, erecting a sign in 2015.
For the tribe’s representatives, the formal christening of the site to recall the long-lost village signaled “a new time for all of us,” said Roberta Basch, a cultural adviser to the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes and wife of Dick Basch, one of the tribes’ leaders, at the time.
Further representation at the site represents another important foothold in the region for tribal leaders.
Earlier in 2020, the tribes received 18 acres of the Neawanna Point Habitat Preserve from the North Coast Land Conservancy, the first property the tribes owned since they began to be displaced from their lands 200 years ago.
City officials still expect anything they do at the school site will include input from and discussion with tribal representatives. They plan to provide time for the tribes to make a presentation during the public scoping process.
Across Ecola Creek, at Les Shirley Park, interpretive wayside exhibits commemorate a visit to the area by the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery in the 1800s.
Jan Siebert-Wahrmund, a resident and board member for the Ecola Creek Awareness Project dedicated to protecting the creek ecosystem, told councilors Thursday she envisions a place for “historical, cultural, educational and environmental” endeavors.
The property, she said during a public comment period, is “a most significant place in our community and even in our entire region. It deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and care.”
Further public input sessions will be held virtually on Jan. 16, Jan. 20 and Jan. 23.