Council OKs plan that some think could be a candidate for Obama public works funds
BY STEVE LAW
The Portland Tribune, December 17, 2008
Portland city commissioners agreed Wednesday to replace the decrepit central parks maintenance facility and nursery at Mt. Tabor Park.
The project, pegged to cost $63 million to $68 million, would upgrade the antiquated facilities used by more than 100 city employees to maintain the entire city parks system.
City Commissioner Nick Fish, who is about to take command of Portland Parks and Recreation, said the new facility is a perfect candidate for a “shovel-ready” public works project that might attract funding in an economic stimulus package promised by President-elect Barack Obama.
Mt. Tabor resident John Laursen, part of a large citizens committee that helped shape the project, described the working conditions as “like something out of Charles Dickens.” The complex of warehouse and office space on Southeast Division Street and 64th Avenue is considered unsafe and inefficient for workers and heavy equipment.
Use of the 13-acre complex dates back a century, when Mt. Tabor Park was created. It has been expanded in a hodge-podge fashion in the ensuing decades.
Some of the buildings lack proper heating and ventilation, and fail to meet modern standards for fire safety and access for people with disabilities. The complex is short on bathrooms and other amenities.
The project, designed by Opsis Architecture, adds a second driveway on Division Street so tractors and other heavy vehicles can safety enter and exit. It includes a new pedestrian and bicycle path into the park, via Division Street near 64th.
The project also includes a demonstration community garden at the adjoining central nursery, where the Parks Bureau grows plants that are later relocated to city parks.
The parks bureau had struck a largely secret deal in 2006 to sell the same site to Warner Pacific College, and seek a new locale for the maintenance yard. But the plan was dropped when Mt. Tabor neighbors got wind of the sale –– which city officials initially denied was under consideration.
Out of that controversy, the city agreed to hire a mediator to work with neighbors on a new plan, which involved rebuilding the maintenance yard and nursery at the existing site. The resulting design was vetted by a large work group made up of neighborhood activists, city employees and others.
“I’ve been enormously impressed by the conscientious efforts of the Parks Bureau to involve the public,” Fish said Wednesday, after the City Council approved the proposed project. “It’s long overdue that we gave (city employees) a workplace that is safe and inviting.”
The resolution adopted Wednesday requires the city to come up with a financing plan by June. One oft-mentioned plan is to put a parks bond before voters, and at least partially fund the maintenance yard with some of the proceeds.