CHS now on historic register

Gazette-Times reporter

Corvallis High School made the National Register of Historic Places list last week.

It's a designation local preservationists are celebrating. But Corvallis School District officials, stewards of the public building, say it won't halt demolition once a new school is built.

Carol Chin, who nominated the school for the register and is involved in the state land-use appeal to save the school, said she was thrilled to have federal recognition of what she considers a historic treasure.

"This is an honor for our entire community, one we can all be proud of," Chin wrote in a press release sent by the preservation group Save CHS!

The federal listing makes the school building eligible for grants from federal, state and private programs. Preservation advocates said they hope to find money to make preservation feasible for the school district and to persuade the Corvallis School Board to reconsider its decision to demolish the school.

The listing comes about nine months after the city issued a demolition permit to the Corvallis School District. The district applied for the permit after voters approved funding for school construction projects, including $45 million to build a new Corvallis High School. The demolition permit is valid until at least October 2005, and it could be extended if requested by school officials.

The district was ready to begin site preparation work for the new Corvallis High School until the land-use appeal was filed last month. Construction is now stalled while the appeal and potential legal challenges are resolved.

The district plans to build the new school while students remain in the old building, then tear down the old school when the new building is ready.

District officials have said they would work with the city's Historic Preservation Advisory Board to document historic portions of the school, pay for a historic inventory and create some type of interpretive display in the new school.

Corvallis High School was built in 1935 with money from the Public Works Administration, later known as the Works Progress Administration. Chin nominated the building for its association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history.

The school has been added onto several times. Only the original building and the first addition are considered historically significant.

Chin said the school embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type of architecture known as Art Deco style. Whitehouse, Stanton and Church, a Portland architectural firm, designed the school with geometric ornamentation, chevrons or zigzags, fluting, horizontal banding, ornamental ironwork and a rounded entry bay.

Corvallis High School was one of five schools flagged by engineers as being at high risk for earthquake damage and fire hazards three years ago.

Allen Johnson, a land-use attorney representing the Corvallis School District in the appeal, said the historic register listing shouldn't have any bearing on that case or on plans to demolish the school.

"This is not going to impose any federal regulations," Johnson said.

The National Register of Historic Places is governed by a federal statute that assures protective review of federal projects that might adversely affect the character of the property. Money for the Corvallis High School project comes from local property taxes, not federal funds.

Johnson said the historic registration process was never intended to be anything but procedural.

"Even if we were starting today and had just applied for the demolition permit, there still isn't anything in the federal act that would prevent demolition just because it's on the register," he said.

The federal register has saved many historic structures, Johnson said, and at different times and places, preservation has been underemphasized. But Corvallis school officials considered preserving the building and chose instead to build a new school.

"They have simply made a decision that other things take higher priority," Johnson said. "(Preservation) is important. But so is education. So is compact growth. So is having good transportation connections.

"It's very difficult to give all the weight to all the issues that come up. Balance is what it's all about."

Becky Waldrop covers youth and education for the Gazette-Times. She can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 758-9510.

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