Sponsored by Oregon Business

Vernonia stakes future on new school

| Print |  Email
Articles - October 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011

A step forward

Weary town leaders up to their elbows in the muck of recovery find it hard to see the future, but those a few steps back imagine it clearly.

“I can see this town being like Hood River,” says Tom Kelly.

“Things in Astoria are good,” says Betsy Johnson. “The same possibility is there for Vernonia.”

Other rural Oregon towns have dug themselves out of deep holes by building on their ready-made or created assets: Cannon Beach and its art scene; Baker City and its mass of beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings; Hood River and its recreational amenities and high-tech jobs; The Dalles and its success in business development and remaking its downtown; and Astoria, which turned itself from a gritty, rundown former logging and fishing town into a place where Microsoft executives snap up Victorians and you can buy a cup of hand-roasted organic coffee to go with your artisan sandwich. Why not a green school and green economy as a shovel?

1011_Vernonia_20
Sharon Bernal, part of a longtime timber family and chair of the economic planning committee.
// Photo by Justin Tunis

“I believe there is a huge draw of people who want to go green,” says Sharon Bernal, the economic development chair. “What I envision is a lot of small, in-home business owners who are going to want their children in this school. Also, the [rural sustainability] center is huge. When you put those two things together, I think we can see a lot of people who have their kids in private schools in the city moving to this community.”

The story of the little town that could is compelling, and many are pulling for it.

“When you think of it as a needful community, it is hard not to think of all the other needs,” says Alissa Keny-Guyer of Oregon Solutions, which will remain through the fundraising phase of the Vernonia project, a first for the organization. “But if you think of Vernonia as a transformational community, it presents a lot of different models for how rural Oregon can survive in the 21st century.”

To get there, fundraisers will face foundations that usually don’t invest in brick and mortar, and a tough economy as they search for the remaining $8 million needed for the school; that doesn’t include the approximately $3 million it will take to build a new football stadium and other athletic fields. “I can’t give you a roadmap to where every dime will come from,” Johnson says, “but it’s there and we’re going to go find it.”

“And there are a lot of people who aren’t aware that this hasn’t been fixed yet,” says Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, president of the Metropolitan Group, which is advising the fundraising. “Four years is a long time.”

As Dan Brown said, it’s a long time to be patient. So many things are unknowable and uncertain about the town’s future, and about how a school might be its economic catalyst. The green economy in Oregon and the nation is wobbly. Like other communities that have faced this juncture, there’s a fair amount of making it up as you go along. Magical thinking is not uncommon.

But one thing is certain.

Next September, a new green K-12 school will open, running on local biomass, partnering with universities and focused on studies relevant to its rural students, students who will have honest-to-god lockers, not just ones painted on walls. It can pour buckets and principal Aaron Miller will not have to empty them. Businessman Brad Curtis might even bring back his son to be part of the first high school graduating class.

On that day next September, the community will step forward. A community where residents in struggling rural towns like Oakridge or Burns might one day look to and say, “I can see this town being like Vernonia.”

Robin Doussard is the editor of Oregon Business. Contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



 

More Articles

10 quotes explaining crisis at Port of Portland

The Latest
Friday, February 20, 2015
022015 port portland OBM-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The ongoing labor disputes at the Port of Portland came to a head two weeks ago when Hanjin, the container port's largest client, notified its customers it would be ending its direct route to Oregon.


Read more...

Can small be large?

Linda Baker
Wednesday, April 01, 2015
040115-lindablogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

Can Oregon remain small but mighty in a global food economy? That was one of the questions raised during this morning’s panel discussion on agriculture exports.


Read more...

Announcing the date of the 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon event

News
Friday, March 20, 2015
OBM-100-best-Green-logo-2015-250pxwBY OB STAFF

Join us to celebrate and network with Oregon’s best green workplaces!


Read more...

Money Talks

March 2015
Saturday, February 21, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

Will community banks survive the digital age? Three CEOs peer into banking's crystal ball.


Read more...

Car Talk

April 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Everyone knows cell phones and driving are a lethal combination. The risk is especially high for teenage drivers, whose delusions of immortality pose such a threat to us all. Enforcement alas, remains feeble; more promising are pedagogical approaches aimed at getting people to focus on the road, not their devices.


Read more...

Footloose

April 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Founded 12 years ago, Keen Inc. likes to push the envelope, starting with the debut of the “Newport” closed toe sandal in 2003. Since then, the company has opened a factory on Swan Island and a sleek new headquarters in the Pearl District. The brand’s newest offering, UNEEK, is a sandal made from two woven cords and not much more.


Read more...

Get on the bus!

April 2015
Thursday, March 19, 2015
BY APRIL STREETER

How the private sector can ride the next transit revolution.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS