A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Decision about Central School is coming up

Written October 9th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

Viewed from across its 7-acre grounds on Oct. 8, Central School faces an uncertain future.

Whether Albany’s historic Central School remains an elementary school may be decided on Monday. People interested in that issue get a chance to talk about it at a school board “listening session” from 5 to 6:30 that evening at the school.

School board member Michael Thomson is the designated listener at that session, which comes ahead of the Greater Albany Public Schools board meeting at 7 p.m., also at Central.

The district administration would like to close Central as a school and use the building, they say, for other programs including administrative offices. It’s been a school since it was built in 1915.

For at least the last two board meetings, members have been discussing a plan to spend federal Covid-relief funds to build six prefab classrooms behind Takena Elementary School, which would enable children now attending Central to go to Takena instead, leaving Central empty or available for other uses.

Board member Roger Nyquist has been pushing back against closing Central. At the last board meeting he said he’d like to hear from Central parents and would change his mind if the parents support the change.

Board members Eric Aguinaga, the chairman, and Thomson have cited various advantages of shifting all the children in the Central-Takena area to the newer school, and so have district administrators.

(I’ve tried to follow GAPS board meetings based on recordings of their meetings on YouTube. But the camera angle and audio quality are such that viewers often can’t tell who is speaking unless they happen to know their voices and can distinguish them under the general hum.)

As of last month, Central had 112 pupils in six classes of third, fourth and fifth graders. Takena had 128 in six classes of kindergarten and first and second grades. Together, the two schools combined are still the second smallest elementary school in GAPS. Only Tangent is smaller.

Albany schools are getting about $15.4 million in so-called ESSER funds under the federal CARES or Covid relief law passed in 2020. The term stands for “elementary and secondary school emergency relief.” The program provided grants to states and districts to address the impact of the pandemic on schools.

The district is proposing to spend about $10.2 million of that money to add six prefab classrooms to Takena and eight to South Shore Elementary School. The South Shore addition is not an issue as all board members seem to agree on that part. Most of the rest of the overall grant would be spent on various items, including summer school, to make up for the loss of learning caused by the pandemic.

The board has been told there’s a deadline in October for deciding how to spend the ESSER money. So Monday’s board meeting may be the last chance for that decision to be made. (hh)

17 responses to “Decision about Central School is coming up”

  1. Michael Thomson says:

    Boardmember Peter Morse will be at the listening session as well.

  2. Diana says:

    Nothing anymore is due to covid is due to our government

  3. Jill Nelson says:

    One clarification about the listening sessions—per the district website about it, only parents of students in GAPS have the opportunity to speak. Might want to rephrase the invitation for concerned community members to speak.

    Also, as a Central parent, I am fully in support of the proposal to bring all our students under the same roof. Aside from the concerns about Central being an appropriate facility for educating elementary students, there are many other benefits to the kids to complete Takena and move the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students there. Currently, the administrative staff (principal and dean of students), counselor and behavior support are divided between the two buildings. This means, at the moment of crisis with a student, a teacher could be unsupported in the building. I’ve been volunteering at Central or Takena many times when this happens. It’s not good. Our teachers don’t have the ability to collaborate across all the grades as they’re in two buildings. And students lose the relationship with their early grade teachers when they promote up to the new building. My daughter experienced a lot of anxiety and sadness knowing she wouldn’t be seeing her beloved former teachers when becoming a 3rd grader. At a time when kids need the consistent adults in their lives more than ever, it’s especially hard to force this break. When you compare the quality of the buildings, it’s inequitable. We teach kids to value reading in the early grades with a beautiful school library, and then they move up to a building with a sub par library space. The cafeteria at Central isn’t designed for large groups. It feels dungeon like in normal years, and the reality of Covid makes it appalling.

    PTA leadership and staff have met with Roger explaining all of these concerns, and many safety concerns. And at least 26 other parents have filled out a survey from the PTA in agreement as well (we’ll present this at the listening session). We hope that he will stand behind what he said after hearing from so many of us that are in support of this proposal.

  4. Jill Nelson says:

    Correction—I had previously read the district’s site regarding who can speak at listening sessions as only parents/guardians, but residents are also allowed. So I would add a request to concerned citizens who don’t have children in GAPS, especially not at Central and Takena: please take time to listen to the parents impacted by this first. Understand the implications of this on the education of children. I love Central’s building and want to see it continue to be preserved and as a resource to our community. But spending any amount of time in there, and listening to the actual experiences of the teachers, shows that it is not an appropriate building for educating elementary kids. Fight for the building, yes. But please don’t fight for continuing to give our kid’s a space that does not measure up to the standard of every other school building in our district.

  5. Jim Engel says:

    Not having any kids in GAPS for 30 years. I’d say to close the schools, make them at home learning places (it worked during COVID), and make the school board stay home. They Are WORTHLESS!

  6. Albany YIMBY says:

    I think you’re a misinformed in terms of what they want, they don’t want to close Central but to give it a different use.

    I know some of the staff at Central. They don’t want to close the school but to combine both buildings in the same space, as educational research has shown that it is better for elementary school students. Also, Central does not have things like air heating, air conditioning, they can’t have screens because it is a historic building, kids get burned with the radiators and now it is freezing because of the need for ventilation. Finally, it is very small, so it doesn’t have space for more classrooms, and not adapted to comply with ADA.

    Central could do a great job being a community center, it does not mean that it would be demolished.

    Another option is to use the playground space at Central to build a more modern building connected to the old one by a covered hallway but that is way more costly than adding an annex to Takena, that was already planned with expansion in mind.

    In short, the staff there is open for alternatives, but you need to be aware that keeping the situation as it is right now is completely unsustainable and that keeping elementary students in the historic building would mean a very expensive bill with no real benefit for them.

    • Dick Olsen says:

      AlbanyYIMBY is misinformed.
      Central has an excellent, trouble free, steam heat system. COVID wont last forever and those awful air filtration units wont be needed. Windows can be opened and screens can be added if needed. All 3-4-5 grades from both attendance areas now fit on the second floor. There’s plenty of room for K-1-2 on the first and basement floors. An elevator was added to Central and it is now ADA compliant.
      To have all the kids at Takena, you’ll need $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 to build more class rooms. We don’t need that expense.

  7. David Cross says:

    Ownership of Central School’s seven acre grounds would check a lot of boxes for Creative Housing Coalition’s Hub City Village location. The site sits adjacent to St Mary’s Soup Kitchen and faces an uncertain future. On September 21st Hasso Hering wrote the CHC made an offer for another piece of property for their homeless village but the CHC was not at liberty to identify it at that time. Again, could the Central School site turn into what Hazelwood Park was envisioned to become?

    • Michael Thomson says:

      There is absolutely no intent or proposal for the building to close. It remains a part of the District, only the usage may change.

      The playground and ball fields are to remain. They are like a park for the neighborhood. More importantly, the sports fields are used everyday by a community that is in desperate need of them.

  8. Dick Olsen says:

    The GAPS administration is again avid to take over Central School as their headquarters. To do this, they must first get rid of the students at Central Their first step was the sister school concept. This required all K-2 students in both Takena and Central districts go to Takena and the 3-5 students all go to Central. This was highly unpopular with teachers and parents. Within the first year, 12 of the teachers involved either retied, sought and got transfers, or just plain quit. I know of only one who staid the course and remained at Central because she loved the building and the kids that would be coming to her fourth grade classroom in the coming three years.

    Now, a new batch of teachers have been taught to feel oppressed by having to teach at Central. They are afraid of the ramps, afraid of the openable widows, afraid of the radiators, the lunch room is dungeon like, no forced air heating and cooling etc .

    Pre covid and pre sister school experiment, Central was a comfortable, superior school. However, I now visited Central the day before yesterday and yes, it is a miserable place to be. It was cold, widows open, loud air purifiers making a deafening racket, rooms not set up to be interesting class rooms, no pictures on the walls.

    I find several of the above complaints to be bogus. The ramps were designed by archatect Charles Burggraf to prevent serious injury if a panicky crowd was leaving the second floor and one or more people stumbled and fell. Central used to have a balcony in the gym. The public entered the balcony from doors in the second floor hallway. Better to fall on a sloping ramp, than to tumble down a 20 foot flight of stairs.

    In the past, the basement rooms were classrooms. As the state mandates, K and1st grade rooms were in the basement. Kids couldn’t fall out of the widows, because the widow sills are at ground level. Similarly, kids couldn’t get burned on radiators because the radiators are on the ceilings. A steam heat system like Centrals requires the radiators to be higher than the furnace boiler so the condensed steam (water) can run back to the boiler.

    The lunchroom is dungeon-like because an elevator was added to Central last year. This took up a large part of the lunch room and also the 1st and 2nd floor class rooms as well. I would suggest the ESSER funds be used to revamp the basement area to again make the lunchroom an enjoyable place.

    Central is comfortable most of the school-year because most of the class rooms have north facing windows and the windows are openable. Some of the windows are balky, but could be easily fixed by replacing missing sash cords and applying appropriate lubrication. If Central has to go to year round use, It can easily air conditioned with wall mounted units Again I would suggest using ESSER monies to tune up the windows and add air conditioning where appropriate.

    In the 65 years I’ve lived a couple of blocks from Central l School, I’ve seen the Monteith and Hackelman neighborhoods go from near slums to enjoyable places to live. Back then my dear Mother-in-law said” If you’ll sell that crappy house in that terrible neighborhood, I’ll give you the down-payment on a decent house”. I’m still here and I give Central School a lot of the credit for the revival of our neighborhoods.
    I hope those of you who remember Central before it was downgraded by the GAPS district will come out and give her your support. We need a neighborhood school like Central to keep our great neighborhoods healthy and strong.

  9. Dick Olsen says:

    What happened to the paragraphs in my above note??

  10. thomas earl cordier says:

    Do not support; Closing schools to make room for more administrative staff. Too many admins already—source of discontent.
    Do not support; spending covid grant money on capital projects is wrong and a misuse of
    the intended purpose

  11. Russ Tripp says:

    I went to Central for grades 1-2-3 while Maple School was being built frkkom and old wooden 2 story to the present 1 story brick building on 7th street where it is now GAP’s headquarters . I think of Central as a school and I do not care for the addion of temporary buildings to a good looking Takena campus that become eyesores. Keep Central as a school.

  12. Charles Leland says:

    I agree with both mr. Olsen and Cordier. Ratio of teachers to admin is out of wack. Keep central a school.


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