Gearhart eyes elementary school, but don’t hold your breath

With Gearhart Elementary School on the market at $1.9 million, city officials feel they have a pretty good shot at maintaining the property for recreation or community space.

Either through the auspices of the city or the Sunset Empire Recreation District, City Council members began the first discussions of a potential buy from the Seaside School District.

The elementary school is slated to be closed in June as students move to a new campus in Seaside’s Southeast Hills.

The 32,000-square-foot elementary school building sits on 8.4 acres, and includes a main school with gymnasium, cafeteria, four modular buildings and covered outdoor basketball courts.

Designated public-/semi-public, zoning code limits uses to a government facility, community meeting building, public service use, or educational purposes.

The property is not zoned for residential or commercial use, which would require a zone change.

Even a park could require a zone change, Mayor Matt Brown said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“The buyers are a park district or a city, because even a park use would require a zone change,” City Attorney Peter Watts said.

Ideas for the property include sports fields, walking trails, jogging trails, possibly an indoor sports facility of some type as well.

“I think there’s a lot of potential, partnering with people if we can, to figure out the best use of that space,” Brown said.

One partner could be the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District.

The only caveat, the district’s executive director Skyler Archibald said at the meeting, is that Gearhart residents would need to join the district first before any investment could take place, a move they have rejected in the past.

While Archibald is now pursuing rec space at another Seaside School District property, Broadway Middle School, Gearhart Elementary could offer park space playing fields, a gym and cafeteria.

“We would be willing to have that building staffed, have community space, have it be a wonderful community venue that people could use,” Archibald said.

If the city votes to join the district, the rec district could take out a bond or a government loan for financing.

A second option could come after completion of the city’s parks master plan, a process beginning “within the next few months,” according to Brown.

“It’s hard to put a timetable on the process,” Brown said. “But I think it’s definitely something we want to discuss during that process.”

Gearhart’s Jeanne Mark said she appreciated the enthusiasm for saving the schools, but the additional rec district taxes — which she estimated at $385 per year — was a matter of concern.

The cost of joining the special district “would never go away. It’s always there,” she said. “I would advise advancing cautiously and making sure their tax bill is going to go up.”

Cheryl Newman, a neighbor to the school, sought playground space for children and families. “I know kids use that area after -school, on the weekends,” she said. “I would really like this as an important thing to push forward.”

Gearhart’s Chris Bell suggested the city first look at investing in playground space on existing park space at the city park at Pacific Way and North Marion.

“We already own it, and we don’t have to buy it,” Bell said.

Both Archibald and Brown agree they have time before making a purchase decision. “Although the schools will be relocating in fall of 2020, a sale of their current building is not imminent,” Archibald said. “There is plenty of time to ensure that the process is well thought out and that the Gearhart community has a chance to provide their input.”

Brown agreed there is “no rush.”

“I think that the parks master plan process can give us a lot of feedback on what people want to see done with that property,” he said.

The city has “almost complete leverage in this,” Watts said. “The fields aren’t going anywhere in the near term. Practically speaking, it would take years before anything would happen to the site.

“Giving the zoning it has now, it’s hard to imagine a buyer,” he added.

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