The end is nearing for Central Elementary School’s current building.
The La Grande School Board will follow through with its plan to have the old Central Elementary building, at 402 K Ave., torn down after a new school replacing it is completed at Second Street and H Avenue in about 16 months.
The decision regarding the current building, which was completed in 1954, is due in part to the prohibitive cost of maintaining it.
“It is a financial decision. We can’t afford to keep it,” said Merle Comfort, chair of the La Grande School Board.
Demolition will probably start in the fall of 2017, according to La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze. He said demolition will start soon after the move into the new school is completed.
The old building will be replaced by a $14 million school that will be built with funds from the $31.85 million bond that school district voters approved in 2014. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new school is planned for 9 a.m. Friday at Second Street and H Avenue.
The La Grande School Board and school district officials have told patrons over the past 18 months that the old building would most likely be torn down once the new Central is built.
“That is what we have been telling people,” school board member Joe Justice said. “I think we should follow through with our plan.”
The school board opted to stay the course after receiving a report on its options from Joseph Waite, the school district’s facilities and bond manager. He said if the school district were to retain Central and its gym, also built in 1954, it would face major expenses.
Central is in need of extensive renovation work, Waite said. The cost of fully renovating Central would be $3.8 million.
This money could be recouped by renting out the old building, but that would take time and tenants able to pay high rent. If the school district received $32,000 a month for rent, it would take 10 years to get its money back, or 32 years if it received $10,084 a month.
“We would have great difficulty in coming out in the black,” Glaze said. “There is no way, when you look at it from a business perspective, that it would be a good investment to keep the old building.”
Keeping the Central building without renovating it immediately would also be costly. Waite said it costs $177,000 a year to operate the building when occupied. The costs primarily involve maintenance and utility expenses.
Comfort said some have suggested having Central’s two classroom wings torn down but retaining its gymnasium because of the need for gym space in the community. This option would still be a daunting one, financially.
Waite said it would cost $1.7 million to renovate the gym. This means that if the school district rented the gym out for $14,000 a month it would take 10 years for the school district to get its money back.
Glaze said this also would not be financially feasible.
“It is beyond our economic capacity at this point,” the superintendent said.
The area Central occupies now will be converted into a parking lot following the demolition. This will allow the school district to add 71 parking spaces for La Grande High School students.
The parking spaces will help the school district meet a City of La Grande site development requirement. The permit the school district was granted for construction of the new Central stipulates that a certain amount of site development work be done.
The added parking spaces will fill a void, as LHS will be losing its student parking lot due to the construction of the new Central. The school will be built where the student parking lot has been, which is about 200 feet from LHS’s southeast side entrance.