Residents voice concern over facilities, safety at Powell Butte

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: January 19. 2007 5:00AM PST

POWELL BUTTE – Traffic outside the school is dangerous. The sewer system is failing. Students have to attend classes in temporary classrooms behind the main building.

Those were some of the concerns parents and administrators at Powell Butte Elementary School voiced at a community forum Thursday night. The event, which was held in the school’s gymnasium, attracted about 100 people, although it did not spark extensive public comments.

The forum was part of the Crook County School District’s ongoing look at its school facilities, which is expected to wrap up at the end of this school year.

Because of its location on state Highway 126, directly across from the Powell Butte Country Store, parents and school administrators have worried in the past about the possibility for an accident on the increasingly busy route between Prineville and Redmond.

“One (problem) is the age of it, I mean it’s hard to bring things up as far as technology goes, but probably the biggest thing is the traffic, the highway, 126, running right in front of that school,” said Jeff Landaker, chairman of the facilities committee, which is conducting the districtwide review. “That’s the biggest thing that people come and talk to us about or that I’ve heard they’re worried about, the flow of traffic on the highway.”

The facilities committee so far has found that all of Crook County’s school facilities are at or exceeding capacity, Superintendent Steve Swisher told parents Thursday night. At the same time, the county’s school-age population is expected to double within 20 years.

Administrators handed out surveys to those attending the forum, one dealing with districtwide school issues and one tailored to Powell Butte Elementary School.

“I have no agenda when it comes to the future of schools in Powell Butte. I have no agenda except to find out what you want to do,” Principal D.C. Lundy said.

During the public comments, some parents questioned whether the school district is considering eliminating the Powell Butte school.

“For me, personally, when I saw that Powell Butte, Ochoco (Elementary School) and Crooked River (Elementary School) were all being considered for sale, it just about killed me,” said Robin Wilson, an attendee at the meeting who said four generations of her family have attended school in Crook County.

Swisher was quick to point out that the school buildings are not for sale, but that several developers have approached him asking about buying them.

“There’s always going to be a school in Powell Butte,” Swisher said. “What it looks like is going to be a question that we need to resolve.”

Swisher said that the septic system at the school is on the verge of failure. The building is over 80 years old and was designed to house 80 students; it now has about 150. The school sits on 10 acres in Powell Butte, and Swisher said that the Crook County Court has raised the possibility of using another 50 acres nearby for a new school building.

“Despite the age of the buildings and all of that, generally they’ve been maintained well,” Swisher said, “but the bad news – they’re really old and tired.”

Chad Greene, a Powell Butte resident who has a first-grader at the school and another child in preschool, said the forum had answered some of his questions about the future of Powell Butte Elementary School.

“When I went to school, we didn’t have the safety issues they have now,” said Greene, who graduated from Crook County High School. “I’ve been concerned because there’s been so many rumors flying around that Powell Butte won’t have a school, they’ll all have to go to Prineville, but Powell Butte needs a school.”

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