For the second meeting in a row, the White Salmon Valley School District Board of Education found itself defending its decision to remain open to leasing or selling surplus district real estate--with a focus on the 4-acre Jewett Sports Complex on Center Street--to the developer of an assisted living care facility.
A board consensus formed around giving The Dalles-based non-profit Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation, lead agency on the project, time to complete its land-use investigation and present its findings before making a decision.
"Fiduciary responsibility" and "due diligence" were phrases used by the majority of board members who favor going forward to see what benefits the school district might gain from selling or leasing property.
Those in favor of keeping the school district's options open are chairman Paul Mosbrucker and directors Debby Bergstrom, Kris Kreps and Tom Stevenson.
"We're gathering all the information before we say no, and we need to consider the information before we can say yes," said Mosbrucker, who added, "I think we need to get all the facts before we take a position."
Director Jeff Cooper, representing the board's minority viewpoint, called further investigation "a waste of our time." He said the possible relocation of the community's youth sports complex from the east side of town to a site next to Columbia High School had now dominated two consecutive board meetings at which community members had voiced concerns about and opposition to replacing the ballparks with an assisted living care facility.
Cooper said a decision "ought to be real easy," then added, "Personally, I don't think we should be supporting this right now."
Cooper's arguments didn't dissuade his colleagues, however.
Stevenson said, though the district did not initiate the idea for an assisted living facility in White Salmon, the board has an obligation to listen to proposals that will benefit the district. He noted that assisted living facilities, such as the one being proposed by CCHC for the Center Street neighborhood, "are valuable assets to communities."
Moreover, Stevenson said, "Doing due diligence is important. We'd be fools to cut it off right now before we've done that."
Bergstrom acknowledged to the audience at the May 18 meeting that "it's clear where the community stands as far as those who've spoken. But it is important to have all the facts and information before we make a decision."
Kreps outlined his position as one that's taking a long view at what the district's needs will be 15 to 20 years from now. "Input from the community is something I will give weight to in my final decision," he said, "but I feel there's an obligation to take a look at this right now and get all the facts."
Not all who attended this meeting because of this issue were sold on the four directors' lines of reasoning for going forward.
After pointing out that the ballparks don't cost the school district anything to maintain, Center Street resident Jeremy Denny said, "Why do you want to stir up a hornet's nest. Just because you can make money on it (sale or lease of land) doesn't make it worth it."
Bob Blades owns rental property on Center Street and lives on Grandview Avenue. He questioned the compatibility of an assisted living care facility with a mostly single-family residential neighborhood.
"It's nearly a commercial use you'd be putting in a residential area," Blades said. "I have a concern about the change in use (from public space to multi-residential), and I hope the board will consider that among the issues it will be looking at."
White Salmon resident Dan Miller offered a different take: Let the Mt. Adams Park and Recreation District buy the Center Street property from the school district in order to keep it in community ownership and in open space.
"Give us enough time and we could come up with the money to take that property over," said Miller.
In the alternative, he offered, "If we need an assisted living facility, then let's find another location for it and not destroy that valuable community asset, because once we let it go, we won't ever get it back."
Steve Gibson of Husum followed up on Miller's comments. He said the community, with input from the city of White Salmon, needs to take a look at its future needs with regard to facilities and recreation, and come up with a plan that would "pick the right location for this facility."