A year to 18 month journey has been laid out for Waldport and the Lincoln County School District – both trying to figure out the “Art of the Possible” for future use of the 11.5 acres of mostly bare ground where once stood the old Waldport High School. Right off the side, to the west, is the still-standing old middle school gym and cafeteria. Senitila McKinley and her Seashore Family Literacy agency has laid a “Dream Claim” on it for use in their many education and family service programs. McKinley and the school district are still dreaming out loud about how that may play out.
On a parallel track, the city of Waldport and the school district are launching a study of the kinds of activities the empty ground might host. Top of the list of hoped-for uses include a community garden, baseball and soccer fields, general open space, a trail system, an arts/music performance area and a dog park, among others. But again, before any of that can happen, the community needs to wrap its collective mind around what is even possible.
One of the big issues is ground water. The site used to be a slough and Mother Nature will turn it back into a slough unless something’s done to stop her. Does that involve fill dirt? If so, how much? And where? What are the costs? Then there are issues about how to lay out a detailed drawing of what uses will fit comfortably inside those 11.5 acres and how space should be allocated.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bought the development rights to the property it meant that construction of ANY facilities had to meet strict criteria. It can’t be anything big or long-term permanent. It appears that playing fields, backstops, goal posts, gazebos and the like are permitted, but that’s about it.
Waldport Mayor Susan Woodruff said the city and the school district will begin very soon their joint study of what uses make sense and are affordable for the community. Building a sports complex along with other uses outlined above will take some planning and a lot of public meetings to sort it all out. Mayor Woodruff said once the site’s “carrying capacity” becomes clear then the city and the district will invite vigorous public involvement on specific uses and their configuration on the site. Woodruff predicted that debate may begin within 9 months or so. She said nothing in the preliminary analysis will preclude any options for discussion. All uses people have been talking about will still be on the table, except for maybe basketball. She says the Waldport area has plenty of basketball courts, inside and out.
Another long term issue will be determining what the community wants, how to pay for it and how to maintain it. In short the dreaded “annual budget.” Woodruff said Waldport City Hall doesn’t have any extra money laying around that could fill the bill. So it’s going to take some additional revenue from the community – and by the community Woodruff means the region – both sides east along the river, and residents on both sides up and down Highway 101. To make any intense use of the 11.5 acres will require that the expense to be spread over a wide enough area to make it affordable for everyone. It might involve the creation of a recreation taxing district, much like a neighborhood might want to raise funds for street repairs or drainage improvements. But talk of such a district is not even on the horizon yet because the community doesn’t yet know what’s possible for the site, how it would be divided up among uses and the costs of maintaining it.
But at least the journey has begun.