Interest comes from same development company of Washington High School -

More than 100 petitioners to the McMenamin brothers may have had the wrong developer in mind to save the shuttered 1936 Concord Elementary School building by repurposing it into a restaurant with other functions open to the public.

FILE PHOTO - Parents and children who attended Concord Elementary School (left) protested its closure in 2013.FILE PHOTO - Venerable Properties recently renovated Washington High School, and the development company is interested in a similar project at Concord.“Seismic risks I think would concern any developer,” said incoming School Board member Steven Schroedl. “But it could be like the Kennedy School (an abandoned 1915 building that was renovated into a hotel and restaurant), so I could see them being interested if it’s a win financially.”

Rather than the McMenamins, it was Craig Kelly, president of Venerable Properties, who was among the eight people who testified before the North Clackamas School Board on April 9. Kelly has read the reports and appraisals on Concord, and “wasn’t scared off.” A graduate of David Douglas High School, Kelly has a “a soft spot for that kind of project” and would like the opportunity to apply to the district with a Concord proposal as soon as possible.

“These are treasures that have to be saved, and they will never be built like that again,” Kelly said. “I don’t want to see a Centennial Mills situation occur, where the Portland Development Commission talked about it and talked about it, and 15 years later the site is so decrepit that they have to tear the buildings down. If the community and district wants to see the Concord building saved, and obviously help the district with its financial obligations, then I could be the right choice.”

Ron Campbell, representing Friends of Concord, submitted another petition last week with 500 supporters to preserve the school for community use.

“I’ve been very impressed with the Friends of Concord and their tireless advocacy on this issue,” said School Board member Trisha Claxton, who was looking forward to this week’s board meeting to discuss and approve a process to solicit, review and evaluate proposals for the future use of Concord. “It sounds like he (Craig Kelly) could be doing something along the lines of what Friends of Concord wants.”

If he had a contract with NCSD, Kelly plans to hire a civil engineer, structural engineer, architect, contractor, etc., as he did with a historic 116,000-square-foot former school the Venerable just converted in Portland. Kelly said that the 6-acre Concord site could have the same opportunity to provide hundreds of local jobs.

“I have a very good expense structure in mind coming off another successful project. We like to create win-win situations,” Kelly said.

Having just gone through a drawn-out public process in Portland, he’s ready to go through any standard RFP complete with extensive public involvement in planning the Concord project.

“Unless I have some level of commitment that the North Clackamas School Board will dispose the property to me, I can’t really move forward,” Kelly said. “It was after I executed the contract on Washington High School, when I was in control of my own destiny so to speak, I could put the full force of my firm behind it.”

Schroedl, who is running unopposed for the School Board in May, said that he would like to see a community center at the site and would be willing to vote to invest NCSD’s fund balance to help make it happen.

“We don’t have a lot of vacant land in that area of town, so it’d be nice to keep it in the district’s possession if the enrollment numbers change and we need to turn it back into a school or a specialized learning site,” Schroedl said.

Kelly said that he’s hoping some of his concepts will mesh with most of the community’s ideas, but he’d rather accept input than say too much more about what’s he’s envisioned for Concord at this point.

Community response

After community members advocated last summer that the facility become a McMenamins property, there has been no contact between the district and anyone representing Mike and Brian McMenamin regarding such a suggestion, a district employee confirmed.

School Board candidate Tim McMenamin, who is the McMenamin brothers’ first cousin, said he did everything he could to pique their interest.

“I told them it’d be great to have one here instead of going out to the Kennedy School,” said. “I haven’t heard anything back from them on that though.”

Although it’s unlikely the McMenamins will respond to the community’s request for their brand of historic preservation, nearly everyone wants to keep the historic property intact as much as possible. Lisa Schwarz, assistant to NCSD’s superintendent of operations, wished to clarify some information in response to rumors in the community.

“There have been some reported statements that the district plans to tear down the school and sell the property. These statements are untrue,” she wrote in an email to community members. “There have been no such discussions at the district or school board level regarding the dismantling of Concord.”

Kelly met with a half-dozen folks in the Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge neighborhoods who also were passionate about saving the building.

“If they don’t have someone looking in on it, and there’s a roof leak, bad things can happen,” he said. “It’s a vicious circle, so I’d like to prevent that as soon as possible. Our firm prides itself on doing difficult projects and going into areas that have seen some better days. But we see an opportunity to make a statement, like with the White Stag building, we did a $37 million project right across from a soup kitchen.”

Kelly has sparked the interest of local architectural experts.

“The School Board is thinking about delaying this project, but Venerable’s interest seems like a viable alternative,” said Terry Gibson, an Oak Lodge community leader who’s also a registered landscape architect. “People need to be there and on the grounds, because currently the building is basically abandoned.”

Nate Burton, an architect from Oak Grove, said Venerable’s interest is “very” promising.

“They have done some good work on other properties like Washington High, and I think this is a key opportunity for the (Concord) building and site,” Burton said.

On Thursday, April 23, the board will consider the superintendent’s recommendation to provide a 23-month extension to allow the community, individuals, businesses, agencies, district and/or organizations time to research opportunities, collaborate, create partnerships, secure funds, and develop plans to inform the future use of Concord. A final decision is planned at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 14, at the district offices, 4444 S.E. Lake Road, Milwaukie.

Washington High School project

Craig Kelly, president of Venerable Properties, said he would be happy to help the district with its outreach moving forward, including participating in planning meetings or hosting tours of the Washington High School building, which operated as a high school from 1924 to ‘81 in Portland.

Venerable applied to put the Washington High School building on the National Register of Historic Places, converting the school’s auditorium into an event center, and turning the classrooms into 55,000 square feet of office space. Without destroying the building’s historic features, the development found an additional 18,000 square feet for retail space. Anchored by New Seasons Market’s corporate offices, the building includes a high-efficiency heating and cooling system; new efficient lighting; new insulated windows; restored and weatherized historic windows; a bioswale that will capture rainwater off the parking lot; construction waste reduction through donations to Habitat for Humanity; and reuse of doors, windows, trim, terra-cotta, lockers and other original building items.

The approximately $18 million project started construction in 2013 when Venerable bought the property from Portland Public Schools for $2 million.

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