Another day, another worrisome effort by City of Salem officials to demolish our town's history for no good reason.
Recently they overturned a Historic Landmarks Commission recommendation to preserve Howard Hall, the last remaining building on the School for the Blind property. Instead, the City Council voted to tear Howard Hall down.
(So Salem Hospital could build an over-sized parking lot.)
Now LeBreton Hall, a majestic 1908 structure that was one of the first to be built on the Fairview Training Center property (which used to be called the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded; we've made progress) is on the chopping block.
As so often happens with the City of Salem these days, what's going on with LeBreton Hall is a mixture of poor judgment, confusion, and illogic. Here's the basic facts.
(1) The City of Salem agreed to buy 29 acres of land now owned by Sustainable Fairview Associates, LLC, which acquired the entire 275 acre Fairview property from the State of Oregon in 2002. As described by the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog in August 2015, the 29 acres is intended to be a park. It includes LeBreton Hall.
The only agenda item of any real interest is a proposal for the City to purchase nearly 30 acres at the Fairview Redevelopment for a new City "community park."
Just as important as the park is the prospect for the preservation of Le Breton Hall of 1908, the first building at Fairview, and one designed by Walter D. Pugh, an important early architect who did our old City Hall and the Grand Theatre.
Unfortunately, there are few details about the building, or about the City's intent for it, other than that it will not be demolished.
(2) Well, now it is slated for demolition. City staff have recommended to the Mayor and City Council that LeBreton Hall be "deconstructed." The staff report was on the agenda for next Monday's council meeting, but now the agenda item has been pulled.
Here's the staff report: Download 12-7-15 Le Breton Building Report
It says that rather than the City paying $90,000 more than the $50,000 anticipated cost of securing and weatherizing the building (meaning the total cost for this is now estimated to be $140,000), LeBreton Hall should be deconstructed/demolished for approximately $190,000.
The staff report says:
This recommendation is based on the high cost ($140,000) to secure and weatherize the building; the ongoing annual cost to secure building; the anticipated high cost to renovate the building for an as yet undetermined use; the lack of funding source for the renovation, and; the lack of funding source to maintain and operate the building after it has been renovated.
(3) OK, let's, um, deconstruct some of the reasoning here. At the moment, City officials are faced with two choices.
One option is to secure and weatherize LeBreton Hall for $140,000; this will leave the City, and public, with an attractive historic building that is part of a planned park and could be renovated for some unknown use in the future.
The second option is to tear down LeBreton Hall for about $190,000. (This must be an underestimate, or the agenda item wouldn't have been pulled "due to a revision in the cost estimate necessary to deconstruct the LeBreton building and abate any hazardous material.")
So paying $190,000 -- or more -- in public funds would leave citizens with bare ground and a deconstructed building. Paying $140,000 would give citizens a secure, weatherized large historic building that could be renovated for various new uses.
Why wouldn't City officials want to go the sustainable, flexible, potential historic preservation route? Why would they recommend demolishing LeBreton Hall before a Master Plan for the park has been developed, since that plan could well include some creative reuses for the building?
(4) Which gets me to my last point, the curious recommendation by City staff to tear down LeBreton Hall while citizens are being asked to weigh in on how they want the 29 recently purchased park acres, which includes that building, to be developed.
Here's a comment that Geoff James, an architect who lives in the Fairview area, left on a recent Breakfast on Bikes post, "City Proposes to Demolish 1908 LeBreton Hall at Fairview."
Thus, bluntly speaking, we're left with another WHAT THE HELL ARE CITY OFFICIALS UP TO? moment.
It's bizarre, but not surprising, that the City of Salem is trying to make an end run around citizen participation in an important policy decision -- preserve or tear down LeBreton Hall? -- by preemptively demolishing the building.
This is what our right-wing Mayor and city council majority typically do: ignore public input and just do whatever they feel like doing (usually what the Chamber of Commerce wants).
As noted in the above quote from the staff report, City officials want to spend $190,000 to deconstruct the building (rather than $140,000 to secure and weatherize it), because it probably would cost a lot to renovate LeBreton Hall for an as yet undetermined use.
Then, it would cost more to maintain the building for that new use, whatever it might be. So, in the minds of City officials, since we can't visualize what LeBreton Hall might become in the future, let's tear it down.
Hey, Mayor Peterson, City Councilors, and other City staff, try this:
Listen to the people. Involve the public in creative discussions about the new 29 acre park and LeBreton Hall. Have confidence that, just maybe, someone out there in the Big Wide World Outside of City Hall has some good ideas that haven't occurred to the folks inside the City of Salem echo chamber.
I've heard that this issue will now be on the agenda of a December 14 City Council meeting.
If so, I'm planning to testify during the public comment period. It seems absurd that LeBreton Hall would be demolished before citizens have a chance to consider new uses for this historic building.