Longfellow spared gut job by school board
Board takes 4-1 vote against letting a salvager inside
EVERETT — Preservationists won the day when Everett School Board members voted down a plan to gut the 108-year-old Longfellow Building.
At the March 5 school board meeting, the vote was 4-1 against selling the building’s contents to an architectural salvage company.
“Some of us recognize the move to salvage is the first phase of demolition,” said board member Caroline Mason, who voted against the surplusing.
Mason’s comments reflected an opinion shared by many of the preservationists. Before the board’s discussion, eight spoke against surplusing the items.
The Longfellow’s been under threat of being razed since it was vacated in 2013. The school district’s plan is to turn it and the related annex into a parking lot to increase parking for Everett Memorial Stadium.
Most recently, in 2018, the district paused plans to demolish because the $2 million bid on the job was $660,000 higher than expected.Mike Gunn, the district’s executive director of facilities and operations, presented the staff recommendation to surplus building contents and reviewed how demolition was determined to be the best option.
Given “the high cost of renovating the building ... you’d be money ahead to tear down, build new,” he said.
The district estimated last year that refurbishing the structure would run $9 million initially and $5.3 million more in upgrades and upkeep over the next 20 years.
The district would have received $1,200 total for about 100 items in Longfellow and its 62-year-old annex. Both structures would have been virtually hollowed out.
A mid-century lamp, doors, workbenches and handrails would have been detached for the salvager to resell to the public. A credenza, marble slab, mirrors and a fir coat rack were also on the list.
The lone voice in support of the school district’s recommendation to surplus was board member Pam LeSesne. She said she had walked the building and was aware of its overall poor condition. The Longfellow contains asbestos and is not ADA compliant or up to code according to district officials.
LeSesne said she imagined constituents saying: “‘Why didn’t you go ahead and demolish when you could have and it didn’t cost as much?’”
“To bring that building up to (standards) is going to be very expensive and we would not be able to get that kind of money from our community to do that and still maintain it as an educational use building,” she said.
Still, LeSesne didn’t see a parking lot as the final purpose for the Longfellow site.
“It may be a parking lot today, (but) it may not be a parking lot in 10 years,” she said. “I believe that there are other future educational uses for the property.”
Mason said she’d rather preserve it now versus have the decision face future scrutiny.
“I would like to one day be proud of the decision to preserve history and this building rather than to explain to our community why we have demolished a building and then we go out and ask for a bond to refurbish and build new buildings.”
LeSesne asked the district’s real estate consultant how much interest there would be in a buyer rehabilitating it.
“I can tell you that the economics would be challenging,” said Michael Finch of CenturyPacific.
The property was listed in the Commercial Brokers Association database for five months, Finch said. It was also marketed on the CenturyPacific website and with a for-sale sign for several more months.
None of the three offers it received in that time were satisfactory to the district.
Despite the cost and difficulties in refurbishing, the majority of the board agreed it was worth considering whether the Longfellow land might go to better use than a parking lot.
“We’ve failed so many bonds, we’ve heard bitter stories ... (but) we know we have a need for early learning,” said board member Traci Mitchell. She suggested the building should be somehow repurposed, though she acknowledged new cost estimates and other work would be needed.
“We don’t need to be in a real rush,” concluded board president Carol Andrews. She spoke of old buildings in- and outside the district that had been successfully repurposed even after a decade.
The board members took into consideration offers of help from the community.
Patrick Hall of Historic Everett was one such volunteer. He cited a lack of public engagement and proposed the board establish a joint public and district committee.
“If you salvage anything today, let it be your relationship with the community,” he told the board.
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