Antelope school restoration: not much progress

Town hopes to get building on National Register of Historic Places

By Leslie Pugmire Hole / The Bulletin

Oregon’s ‘Most Endangered Places’

Restore Oregon is soliciting nominations for its 2015 list of Most Endangered Places. Selected places are noted for their cultural, historic and economic value and include residential, industrial and commercial places, including entire neighborhoods.

Restore Oregon is also seeking nominations for its DeMuro Awards, which recognize exceptional historic rehabilitation projects and compatible infill developments. Deadline for both is Aug. 11 and more information is available at restoreoregon.org.

Living in a town with as many residents as most people have on their blocks has its perks: peace and quiet, a semi-rural lifestyle and modest cost. But trying to muster a groundswell of community support can be tough.

“I’ve been working in the background, but I’m not as active as I’d like to be,” said Barbara Beasley, resident of Antelope — population 47 — and driver behind the effort to get help for her town’s 90-year-old schoolhouse. A year ago, Restore Oregon (formerly Historic Preservation League of Oregon) named the school to its list of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places.

Other than providing an educational space for the children of area farmers, ranchers and townspeople for many decades, the building’s largest claim to fame is serving as the setting for the 1980s power struggle between the residents of Antelope and Rajneeshpuram, the controversial religious community that settled less than 20 miles away.

The school — and the town — was effectively taken over when the number of voting Rajneeshpuram residents outnumbered those in Antelope, and the schoolhouse was the location of those pivotal elections.

Today the school is owned by the city of Antelope and used as a city hall and community center. It has been plagued by maintenance issues such as crumbling siding and a leaky roof, but not much has been done in the way of major upgrades in the last year because Antelope has had bigger fish to fry — namely an antiquated and failing water system and a proposed wind energy project that could tax its basic road system with construction traffic.

“In the long run I’m optimistic, but in the short run I’m not,” said John Silvertooth, an Antelope resident whose mother attended the school. “There was a spurt of interest last year, but I’m not aware of anything being done.”

Effecting change in such a small community is tough, Beasley said. “With all the political stuff going on now, this doesn’t seem like the right time to ask others to get involved. It may seem like (saving the building) is going slowly to others, but the national registry is going to change everything.”

According to Brandon Spencer-Hartle of Restore Oregon, an application to add the building to the National Register of Historic Places is nearly complete. A graduate student from the University of Oregon has been working on the application as part of a class, a big help for the nonprofit Restore Oregon, which names 10 sites to its endangered list every year and tries to help as many as possible with grants and expert advice.

Placement on the national registry brings the possibility of grants and tax credits. A Redmond site, Petersen Rock Gardens, was named to Restore Oregon’s endangered list four years ago and received approval for the national registry in 2013, with the help of grants to facilitate a historian to complete the application.

“The school is a great building with a lot of potential, but they have a real challenge being such a small community,” said Spencer-Hartle. His agency did suggest to Antelope residents that one partial solution could be housing the town’s post office — the community’s only business — in the school, giving it a full-time use and rental income.

“The school needs a bit of work but mostly what it needs is life, eyes on the building every day,” Spencer-Hartle said. “We can throw out all the ideas in the world, but ultimately it’s up to the level of willingness of the people who live there.”

The Antelope City Council has discussed the post office idea, said Beasley, its former city finance officer, but it’s a complicated matter involving the federal government. There are parking and accessibility issues that would need to be addressed, not to mention current and future lease agreements.

“Our list may be annual, but we’ve discovered that saving places takes more than one year,” said Restore Oregon Executive Director Peggy Moretti. “That sustained and prolonged effort can tax our resources, but it has a positive impact, drawing attention to the stories (behind the endangered sites). It really does take local advocates to put in sustained effort; we can’t do it from afar.”

Beasley said she’s not discouraged, but she is pragmatic. “I know we can do this, but it’s hard to work from the middle of nowhere.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, lpugmire@bendbulletin.com