ashland.news
July 14, 2024

Pioneer Hall too hazardous for use now, says acting city manager

Pioneer Hall on Winburn Way as seen in a 2017 engineering report prepared for the city of Ashland.
December 12, 2023

Nearly $2 million in renovations expected to begin by the spring

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

Pioneer Hall will not be available for community events until next year,  Ashland Acting City Manager Sabrina Cotta confirmed to Ashland.news on Tuesday, but — assuming current plans go through — it should be available later next year.

“It’s a known hazard. … Having been in that building, it was not very warm and welcoming,” Cotta said.

Assessments have reported a variety of safety hazards in the building, from an inability to withstand snow load to a potentially unstable chimney and needed seismic upgrades, according to materials presented to the City Council in 2017. 

ZCS Engineering is expected to finalize construction plans in January. The city will then put the project out to bid in February and construction could potentially begin by March, Cotta said. Both the Community Center and Pioneer Hall are expected to be available after renovations are complete. 

Rats have become a problem in the building, Cotta said, but knowing large renovations are coming the city does not want to spend taxpayer money on an exterminator. 

The recent priorities of the city have “shifted,” to a variety of services — such as the night lawn homeless camping area behind the police station on East Main Street and the emergency shelter and severe weather shelter on Ashland Street, Cotta said. These have taken up funding and continue to occupy staff time, leaving Pioneer Hall and the Community Center waiting their turn.

The projects to repair both buildings are anticipated to cost a total of nearly $2 million, according to a Capital Improvement Program plan presented to Ashland City Council in 2023. 

The interior of the main room at Pioneer Hall on Winburn Way as seen in a 2017 engineering report prepared for the city of Ashland.

Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice volunteers and Peace Meal organizers Jason and Vanessa Houk led a rally in the Ashland Plaza Monday evening to protest the city’s closure of Pioneer Hall. 

In a Dec. 7 email between Cotta and the Houks obtained by Ashland.news, Cotta outlined why city staff have assisted in arranging holiday Peace Meals at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland.

“I understand you all have an affinity and preference for Pioneer Hall but given that the church location meets your space needs with its increased occupancy capacity, is not impacted by snow, has no constraints on attendance … has heat, does not need mitigation, and has a commercial kitchen and the expense and effort needed to make Pioneer Hall work for your services,” Cotta wrote. 

In a Nov. 20 email, Cotta stated to use Pioneer Hall, the group would need to provide insurance, consent to no cooking that could involve grease (including “frying or meat products”as there is no hood installed above the stove), and be prepared to find an alternative space in the event of snow. Occupancy would be limited to 56 people. 

Cleaning the building before and after the event and acquiring an exterminator were also requested, according to the email. 

“CIS (the city insurance provider) is not in favor of using Pioneer Hall at all at this time given the known structural deficits but with a certificate of their insurance … they will allow it to be used,” Cotta wrote. 

The insurance submitted by the Houks for the event was not sufficient and the policy had expired, Cotta said. 

After this year’s Thanksgiving meal, “Some things were missing or broken and had to be replaced,” at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, Cotta said. While the SOJWJ organization has paid to repair the damage and is still welcome at the church, Cotta stated these incidents — with additional issues related to trash — have happened with this organization in the past. 

The one exception to Pioneer Hall’s closure is the Ashland Scout Troop, which has a history and connection to the building.

“They’re on the deed to the building, they’re part owner, so they’re kind of a different user,” she said. 

Even with a memorandum of understanding between the Boy Scouts and the city dating to 1986, Scouts have provided additional insurance and indicated they understand the additional risk assumed by being in the building. Scouts have been assisting the city in maintenance as part of their ownership and special access, she said. 

Some volunteers with Jobs with Justice and the Peace Meal object to the city’s decision. City Councilor Gina DuQuenne stated that, as a volunteer for the meals and a councilor, she sat in on a meeting between herself, fellow City Councilor Dylan Bloom and Cotta with representatives from Peace House and Jobs with Justice. 

“They (the city) offered council chambers, but that’s not feasible, where’s the kitchen? … Pioneer Hall, this is the destination for people to come and have a hot Christmas meal and a dinner with family,” she said. 

DuQuenne said she and her grandchildren have volunteered at the event, stressing its importance to the community at large. 

“I think the city misses the point on who is being served, it’s not just homeless people. People come with all varieties of food insecurity, and more and more Ashlanders are experiencing food insecurity. … I think food is a human right,” she said. 

Jobs with Justice holds their meals with professionalism and care, she said, and would be willing and capable of meeting all the city’s conditions to hold the meal in Pioneer Hall. 

Cotta said Peace Meal organizers have declined the city’s offer of assistance to find alternative locations — such as Council Chamber when available, park pavilions or a catering tent — but instead prefer Pioneer Hall. 

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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