In a normal year, Sunset Pool, the fitness center, youth center, Bob Chisholm Community Center, Mary Blake Playhouse and Broadway Field would be busy with spring activities.

But 2020 was anything but normal for the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District. Sunset Pool was closed for parts of the year because of the coronavirus and events were put on hold. Fifty of 57 employees were laid off. The Bob Chisholm Community Center limited activities to the city’s senior meal program, and child care was reduced to serving only emergency child care needs, for first responders and essential workers.

At the same time, the district looked to the future, developing a new strategic plan, updated policies and procedures and a proposed purchase of the former Broadway Middle School from the Seaside School District, which the park district is set to buy for $2.15 million. The purchase, proponents said, will provide added recreational opportunities, revenue and child care and place the park district at a centralized location in Seaside for years into the future.

“I think this is a really good opportunity and hopefully we’ll be able to program recreational and community opportunities for people that live here,” Skyler Archibald, the executive director of the park district, said in October. “It comes at a much more affordable price tag than the previous bond and the cost of new construction would be at any point.”

Board conflict

Except for one park district board member, Michael Hinton, the entire board turned over since the last election. Katharine Parker was sworn in to replace Lindsey Morrison in December 2019. Su Coddington replaced Rodney Roberts in April.

In July, district employees filed a formal grievance asking for the dismissal of board members Jeremy Mills and John Chapman, who they said displayed “behaviors unbecoming of a board members,” staff wrote. “These incidents besmirch the district’s name in the community and undermine staffs’ ability to conduct their work effectively.”

Mills and Chapman subsequently stepped down. They were not charged with any wrongdoing. In his resignation letter Chapman cited differences with the executive director.

In August, Parker became board president and Celeste Bodner and Erika Marshall were appointed.

Bodner is the founder and executive director of the Seaside-based FosterClub, a national nonprofit, which aims to improve the lives of young people in and from foster care.

Marshall, a Seaside resident, is interim director of global human resources for Mercy Corps, working with the organization’s vice president to guide overall vision and strategic direction.

Middle school purchase

The new board immediately changed the direction of the park district. The previous board had tabled a potential purchase of Broadway Middle School, for sale after the Seaside School District’s campus relocation.

Zoned partially residential and partially commercial, the 3-acre property contains the 73,000-square-foot school building, along with the Seaside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau building and public restrooms, on land leased to the city by the school district.

The school district reduced the price in February, but even at less than $3 million — down from an initial listing of $3.6 million, board members said the school was “no bargain,” presenting liability and ongoing maintenance issues.

In June, the board again rejected pursuing a potential purchase deal for the middle school, tabling the matter for a year.

But when the composition of the board changed, so did its attitude toward the school purchase.

The purchase could provide space for programs and revenue streams for community programs that serve families such as after-school care, summer camp, “Start Smart” sports, the farmers market and basketball.

In September, the park district board authorized Archibald to work with a real estate agent and deliver an offer before approving a resolution to seek financing for up to $2.5 million.

Opposition to the project developed with the formation of the Taxpayers for SEPRD Transparency, a local group committed to bringing the school purchase to a vote by district residents. Their members questioned terms of the purchase and filed records requests for inspection documents, including an energy audit, asbestos report and roof evaluation.

Ultimately, the board chose to move forward as this week the district announced an agreement with the school district on a purchase for $2.15 million.

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