Officials begin turning elementary school into skatepark, garden and riparian education resource

  • Stephen Baxman, Chief of the Monte Rio Fire Protection District and the Board Chair of the Monte Rio Recreation and Parks District, at the Old Monte Rio Elementary School which he hopes will be transformed into the Russian River Watershed Adventure Center and Monte Rio Creekside Park. Photo taken in Monte Rio, California on Thursday, August 23, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

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."

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