Lincoln Building suggested for Port Townsend community use

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The historic Lincoln Building could become a community classroom space, art center or serve another community purpose under a proposed partnership among the Port Townsend School District, the city of Port Townsend and possibly Jefferson County, Mayor David King said at a City Council workshop this week.

Schools Superintendent David Engle discussed with King on Monday the possibility of adding the Lincoln Building to the list of properties the city could use, King said Monday night.

The 498 Benton St. building — once a school, later housing district offices and now empty — could be part of a proposal creating a city-county parks district that city and county leaders hope could make park management more efficient, council members said.

The creation of such a park district, with a bonding capacity of up to 75 cents per $1,000 appraised property value, may be brought to the public for a vote late this year or in 2014.

The City Council and the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners are just beginning the process of considering what parks and other community recreation assets might be included in a proposed parks district and how such a district would operate.

County Administrator Philip Morley, who attended the meeting, said officals would have to consider county parks “property by property” to see what might be included.

Various options for what type of control the various entites would have over the parks district, King said, are:

-- Designate the City Council as a parks board; it would operate as two different entities, as it does for the transportation district.

--   Have members of the City Council and Jefferson County commissioners sit on a combined parks board.

--   Create an independently elected parks district board to manage and operate the parks.

Council members said they were concerned that a parks district would have different priorities than the city and could close or defund parks or other recreation facilities the city intended to be managed by the district.

There are legal questions as to what, if any, terms could bind a future parks board to the intentions of the current leadership, King said.

The parks could be owned by the city and leased or managed and operated by the parks district, or ownership of the parks could be transferred to the newly created district, with a variety of combinations of ownership and management.

The city should retain some parks that are important to individual neighborhoods, said Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval.

Retaining local control over locally important parks would be reassuring to residents, Sandoval said.

However, if the city turns over the parks that are used more by regional visitors but keeps control of the neighborhood parks, the intention of the district — to improve efficiency in park management and operations — would be lost, said Deputy Mayor Kris Nelson.

“We lose efficiency if we maintain our own equipment. We'd have up to three sets of mowers,” Nelson said.

The intention of the district is to have fewer mowers, not more, she said.

The process of identifying which management options and which parks would be selected is expected to be the subject of future joint city-county meetings, and additional meetings with the School Board to discuss the status of the Lincoln Building — as well as the creation of a steering committee to make recommendations.

King said the Lincoln Building proposal crossed his desk for the first time Monday morning, when Engle contacted him.

“We won't have the student body to fill that building ever again — or at least for the next 10 years,” Engle said Tuesday.

If the Lincoln Building is added to the city's list of usable spaces, the council believes it will have more than enough uses for it.

“We have more uses than we have space to fill,” King said.

Engle said that adding the school to the community list of spaces that can be used is a more efficient use of taxpayer money than letting it sit empty.

The building has been empty since the district administration moved out of the building last spring.

Another former school building, Mountain View at 1925 Blaine St., currently is occupied by the Port Townsend Police Department and other city and community entities.

Mountain View had been abandoned bit by bit as equipment failed, and it was expensive to restore for use, council members said.

The Lincoln Building is in decent condition but needs extensive work, Engle said.

“It's still functional,” he said.

Engle said the building cannot be brought up to seismic standards to allow it to be used as classroom space, but it could be upgraded for other community purposes.

The stone-and-brick 30,000-square-foot, structure originally was constructed in 1892 with an ornate wood roof and peaked fourth-floor attic space, but in the 1920s, the wooden spires and clock tower that dominated the roof line of the Victorian edifice were destroyed by hurricane-strength winds during a storm.

The ornate roof was replaced with a simple, flat roof over the third floor, creating its current appearance, Engle said.

Classes were held in the building until the 1980s, and it served as an administration center for the district until 2012.

“The views from the third floor are the best in the city,” Engle said.



Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 15. 2013 6:20PM
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