The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission is considering acquiring Pioneer Hall from the city, perhaps for use a community hall.
Pioneer Hall, a log cabin built in 1921 on Winburn Way across from Lithia Park and added on to through the years, has served as one of the locations for a winter homeless shelter for five years. A study conducted last year found the hall vulnerable to structural damage if a lot of stress was put on it, such as an ice storm or heavy snow, which would be unsafe for any building occupants.
In April, city staff presented estimates saying it would take at least $325,000 in structural modifications to bring it up to code standards for use as a recreational meeting space.
According to code, installation of a fire sprinkler system would be required for continued use for transient lodging, bumping the cost to about $404,000.
During the past winter season, shelter organizers and volunteers had to patrol the building for fire throughout the night due to the lack of fire sprinklers. The city and the shelter organizers have said the shelter won’t be hosted at Pioneer Hall during the next shelter season from November through April.
The council voted in April to solicit proposals from citizens on what to do with the building.
“It’s staff’s recommendation that parks obtain it for recreational use,” Recreation Superintendent Rachel Dials said at a Parks and Recreation Commission study session Monday night.
Currently, the parks department pays $15,000 to the city annually to use the building. The department also pays for cleaning services at $13,000 a year and spends roughly $3,000 a year in custodial staff time at the building. Its annual revenues are about $17,800, Dials said.
“We lose money there every year,” Parks Director Michael Black said. “Going forward with the building under current use is problematic, and I would advocate against it. But (without the shelter use), we have a potential to use it more often.”
Parks staff suggested that by acquiring the building, the department could break even in operational costs. Staff also proposed discussing a donor opportunity with Ashland Parks Foundation to cover repairs costs needed at Pioneer Hall.
“There’s support in the community for parks to take over this,” Black said. “Ashland Parks Foundation could potentially help out.”
Dials said it’s yet to be determined whether the department has to go through all the rehabilitation requirements presented by public works department, if parks successfully acquired the building.
“But some level of maintenance is necessary,” she said. “Such as the curtains, which have stains that are from probably 30 years ago.”
Commissioner Rick Landt said he understands staff’s recommendation, but he advocates for a business plan for the building first.
“To put more than $300,000 into this … is not a good investment,” Landt said. “I don’t think putting a whole lot of money into it is a good idea.”
Landt added that the commission should aim to be profitable, saying it’s “not an unreasonable goal.”
Commissioner Jim Lewis said the commission is already subsidizing many services and facilities for the benefit of the city. He advocated for an approach that would be more historically sensitive.
Commissioner Mike Gardiner said he wants parks to own the building.
“We would bring benefits to the city by upgrading the building to a better structure, even though it won’t be self-sufficient,” Gardiner said. “I’d do it, because I think it’s important.”
The commission asked staff to come back with a draft proposal at its meeting on Monday, May 21.
—Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.