Thank you for inviting me to comment on Gearhart’s social media perspectives regarding the future of Gearhart’s elementary school. I’m sensitive to Gearhart’s social media having a deep and wide diversity of comments from longtime citizens, successful businessmen, engineers, biologists, geologist, workers and fire supporters.
I have monitored this commentary closely and at this point in time the Gearhart school has become, in my opinion, an increasing catalyst dividing the community between the proposed fire station and the school’s future. While most of our community is keenly aware of Gearhart’s leadership’s well-funded efforts to build a 13,000-square-foot fire facility, many of us are perplexed. Perplexed with regards to the glaring absence of either a formal position or the void in effort to investigate our school as an alternative to the proposed fire station. While the current sale of the school is ignored, the city over the last three years has deployed thousands of dollars and copious amounts of time of paid employees and unpaid volunteers promoting one of the largest public works projects in Gearhart’s history.
Some in our community are frustrated. Many have expressed the school was their first opportunity as a child to launch their young identities; to form relationships and purpose; to have responsibilities, to create art and music and engage in life. Those who have stayed and those who have left and returned see generations of memories and do not want the school left to the vicissitudes of for-profit ventures. Further they believe the school has historically played a key role in shaping Gearhart’s unique culture. Many of our participants see our school as a valid multifaceted and more economical alternative to the proposed fire station located on some of the most expensive land in the Gearhart area. Frustrated, because they are aware some city negotiators have dismissed the school as a “million dollar teardown,” yet our community knows that currently there has been no effort to formally underwrite the integrity or the lack of integrity of the overall facility. We know there seemingly is little interest or intent to inspect the facility to rule out or rule in the veracity of the facility being a tear down candidate.
While city leaders are apparently willing to spend multiples of millions of dollars (some estimates as high as $12 million to $14 million), on the new fire station many believe the school could be purchased for a fraction of the rumored fire station land cost alone; and the repurposed construction costs of the school would be substantially less than the fire project construction costs.
We understand the fire stations proposed location will be argued as the city’s only location to survive a major tsunami but once again our members have provided multiple models by independent agencies that show as far as serving all areas of Gearhart the proposed fire station faces similar challenges as the school as a service center located in a flood inundation zone.
Many see the school as a tremendous opportunity to provide a variety of services such as a center for city police, fire, administration and emergency medical offices; a large citizen assembly area; emergency storage; a training center for employees and volunteers; a convention center to promote local businesses, art and music events; social functions; public gardens; and community resiliency and communication center and much more. Cost savings can be transferred to the refurbishment of the existing fire and administration facilities to house fire engines and support equipment.
Additionally a repurposed school shows an actual commitment to the city’s comprehensive plan by supporting the goals and ordinances regarding open spaces, land use, and hazardous mitigation efforts. Our participants believe a repurposed school in a flood zone can be insured for catastrophic events and from the savings in its acquisition and construction costs can provide Gearhart future incremental borrowing capacity towards multiple strategically placed evacuation staging areas which is in opposition to the new fire station proposal.
We understand very well the city will argue for the current proposal but, as stated earlier, many of us have reached out to outside agencies and found a divergence of opinion regarding the ultimate and final outcomes from future catastrophic events — the debate will be ongoing. While many would call this discussion obstructionist, I would like to convey to those interested that there are many who are quietly trying to insure Gearhart’s historical culture is honored and that our residents are provided all possible alternatives such that when our taxpayers vote there vote will be placed with confidence that all options have truthfully been exhausted.
As other North Coast communities have done, I respectfully request our city officials not ignore but give our school an equal opportunity in effort; positive thought; and funding as they have unilaterally provided for the current fire station proposal, aka the High Point station.
Jack Zimmerman is a moderator and original co-founder of the Pacific Way Facebook group.