New role for abandoned Monte Rio school campus
Officials begin turning elementary school into skatepark, garden and riparian education resource
Published: Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 4:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 8:23 a.m.
The old Monte Rio Elementary School is a postwar-modern building that is slipping into ruin, its grounds choked with weeds, its buildings crowded by brambles and stained by rain and rot.
Yet the school mascot, a tiger, still prowls the jungle in a mural on the front wall. It is easy to imagine the sounds of children's voices and basketballs bouncing on asphalt.
"It was a real good school, lots of kids, a lot of community spirit," said Steve Baxman, chief of the Monte Rio Fire Protection District.
It may be an eyesore now, but the Monte Rio Recreation and Park District has big plans to bring the old school back to life.
The park district will spend $1 million in redevelopment funds over the next year on the first phase of converting the school into Monte Rio Creekside Park. The project will create a skateboard park, coffee shop, community garden and trail looping around the 3.8-acre site at the small community's southern entrance.
That work is scheduled to start next month and be completed by next June.
A second phase, which would cost an estimated $4.9 million, would raise the school and gym out of the flood plain, refurbish them and create the Russian River Watershed Adventure Park, which would educate visitors about the watershed and how to protect it.
It could also include a trailhead for trails that would climb over the adjacent mountain, connecting to the county's Pomo Campground and trails to the coast.
The district has applied for those funds from Proposition 84, the 2006 California Clean Water, Parks and Coastal Protection Act.
"This is a chance for us to have something nice in the downtown," said Baxman, who is also chairman of the park district. "It would be a kind of gem for downtown and something to draw people here."
The school was built in 1944, a squat, stucco, flat-roofed building that was typical of the public schools built in that period.
A wing was added in the 1960s, a gym added in the 1970s and portable classrooms were in place nearby at the height of its use as a school.
The grounds are bordered by Dutch Bill Creek, lined by pepperwood trees. They once contained playfields, a baseball field and basketball and tetherball courts, which are now overgrown with weeds.
The school's demise began when the septic system failed in 1985 and a record-setting flood in 1986 sent a foot of water through the buildings.
"The school district at that time decided to get off of the site," said Stephanie Felch of Praxis Architects, who is designing the new project.
The property was purchased by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and given to the Monte Rio park district.
It was then used by the Sweetwater Springs Water District and was a day-care center, but has been vacant for the past decade.
It has also been defaced by graffiti, occupied by the homeless and vandalized, the copper wiring ripped out by thieves.
"This fills two needs," Baxman said. "We are taking care of our property and we are offering something for people to use and enjoy."
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.