CANNON BEACH — The city voted unanimously Monday night to approve a lease agreement with Cannon Beach Academy, leaving the school about a month to secure a building permit to tackle major renovations necessary to open in the fall.
The city has fast-tracked the process ever since the academy was forced to change locations to the former Preschool and Children’s Center at 3781 S. Hemlock St. after a cost estimate at the original location on Sunset Boulevard was $150,000 over the board’s $90,000 budget.
When the board decided to pursue the former Children’s Center, supporters heralded the space as a great alternative because it was already designed to host children. But a report done in early June by an independent contractor shows the building is in “substantial code non-compliance” to become a school as it stands, which could drive up costs. At one point, the report suggests that the city “weigh the options of removing the building” versus doing the repair work.
City Planner Mark Barnes said this particular inspection should be considered a draft, and that a more tailored assessment will come after Cannon Beach’s newly hired building official reviews the academy’s building plans. Former City Manager Brant Kucera and interim City Manager Jason Schermerhorn said there were no discussions about removing the building.
This still leaves the academy about a month to address a series of mold, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and fire code problems to meet Seaside School District’s Aug. 15 deadline to gain an occupancy permit.
The city-commissioned report done by Douglas Dick from On the Level Inspection Concepts Inc. found significant issues to address, including mold permeating the south wall, certain ramps and bathrooms that aren’t ADA compliant and the lack of a fire alarm system. A cost estimate done by O’Brien & Co. Inc. totaled more than $250,000, based on Dick’s list of suggested renovations to make the school safe.
In his report, Dick attributed many of the code issues to the fact the building was built by volunteers in 1987.
Coaster Construction, which has been long-term partner of the academy, gave a drastically lower bid of $75,000 after going on a walk-through with city staff and Moore later in June.
Barnes said the difference lies in the fact the city asked Dick to evaluate the property in a short amount of time and to consider all the “worst-case scenarios” that renovating the building could bring. Another factor that drives down cost is that much of the labor will be volunteered by the community, Kucera said.
Because of the tight deadline needs of the academy, the city wanted an assessment of the property earlier than the city’s new building official Alton Butler could start work in mid-June, Barnes said.
“Since the city is acting as the landlord with this property, we asked for a worst-case scenario type estimate,” Barnes said. “There will likely be a diversion from this report in Alton’s correction letter (for the building permit).”
Some parts of Dick’s report are smaller items that don’t need to be addressed immediately for the school to open, or projects that could have negotiable cost and solutions, Dick said. Now that the academy has submitted official layout plans with the building permit application, Butler can assess whether or not the academy’s plans to address these issues are safe and code compliant.
But some are non-negotiable. In one part of the building, Dick reported the smell of mold so strong that he asked city officials touring with him to leave the room for safety concerns.
“The smell of mold was so dramatic,” Dick said. “When you get that kind of smelling mold, your ducts could be full of mold. You could have environmental issues you are not even aware of yet.”
Cannon Beach Academy Executive Director Amy Moore said she did a walk-through with Butler and Coaster Construction to evaluate the reality of these non-negotiable renovations, but said she found his report to be written in “very dramatic language.”
“Because of the history behind the building, we want to try to do all we can to preserve it and put it back into use for a good cause,” Moore said.
One way the academy will save money for these renovations is in their rent check to the city. City councilors granted the academy’s request to rent the space for $1 the first year, to be renegotiated after one year.
Rent started at $2,000, and then eventually was negotiated down to $1,000 a year before Monday, Schermerhorn said. Academy board members argued $1 rent was fair because the building was a gift to the city upon which it pays no property taxes, and necessary because it would allow the school to afford significant renovations that would in turn improve the value of the property.
While the agreement was passed unanimously, City Councilor Mike Benefield questioned the academy’s request, and asked board members whether or not they felt they had the financial resources to operate the school successfully.
“We need to get on our feet,” Cannon Beach Academy Board President Kellye Dewey said. “We’ve been hiring teachers and buying curriculum. We will continue to fundraise, but we don’t want our director to be fundraising all day. We want her in the classrooms.”
“Give us a chance, and we can show you what we can do for the community,” Moore added.