Neighbors reveal plans for turning former drug den into community center

See what progress has been made to turn Wake-Up Drive-Thru on SE Division St. into Atkinson/Tabor Community Commons; plus how long they expect the transition to take …

Kristin Heying, Caf?© au Play, and Southeast Uplift volunteer board chair Paul Leistner, here looking at plans for the new Atkinson/Tabor Community Commons.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Plans are moving forward to turn a one-time illicit-drug drive-through across SE Division St. from Atkinson Elementary School into a family friendly coffee house and community center.

On October 16, community members streamed into the Atkinson gym to learn about the project’s progress since taking ownership of the property in June ‚Äì and since the federal the Drug Czar’s award presentation in July.

Community members told us they were excited by the progress being made, and enjoyed the great presentation made by the architecture/design team of Jim Kalvelage and John Shorb with Opsis Architecture, and Mike Abbate and Tim Strand with Greenworks.

Design boards, a fully-constructed model, and a 3-D computer simulation that allowed community members to fly over and through the site and different proposed designs helped attendees get a better understanding of the improvements proposed.

Progress reported
Southeast Uplift volunteer board chair Paul Leistner started the meeting, telling the group, “We’re all very excited to be reviewing designs for the long-hoped for coffee house/community center. The project continues to receive valuable support from a wide array of local individuals, organizations, public agencies, and companies. This project is a testament to the power of community members to join together and accomplish great things.”

Sara Gilbert and Charles Heying, board members of Cafe au Play, the non-profit organization that will provide a kid/community friendly coffee house operation on the site, described their program.

Jacqueline Villnave announced that the City of Portland’s “Safe Routes to Schools Program” would bring traffic engineers to Atkinson Elementary School on Monday, October 30, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. to look at ways to improve pedestrian and bike safety at the 57th and Division crossing.

Jim Kalvelage and Mike Abbate then walked the group through the design options:

Phase 1: renovate existing building for coffee/house community center; and,
Phase 2: construct additional larger building on the site to house large community meeting rooms, kitchen and storage space.

Showing off a model of the proposed community center is Jim Kalvelage, partner in Opsis Architecture.

Key decisions made
The group decided to retain the existing building. The steel structure is in good condition, and ready to be renovated for use as a coffee house/community center to be operated by Cafe au Play.

Other ideas were floated, including the addition of a terrace, space for farmer’s market and outdoor events, and perhaps space for a community garden.

Most on-site parking to be eliminated
Past community input showed a strong desire for the center to have a pedestrian/bike focus. The group learned that eliminating parking significantly broadens ways to use the site.

Community comments
Community member’s comments showed strong support for:

  1. A south-facing terrace along Division St., eliminating most of the parking;
  2. Phase 2 building on the west side of the existing structure;
  3. Constructing a storm water garden that would channel stormwater runoff from 57th St. through the site and into a water garden and flow-through planters along S.E. Division St.;
  4. Creating new on-street parking on Division by removing the existing driveways;
  5. Improvements to the crosswalk across Division; and,
  6. Creation of a “teaching circle”.

Next steps
During the fall and into the winter months, the group will designs based on input from the meeting, create a sustainable economic plan, continue remodeling the existing building and preparing to remove the unused underground fuel tanks.

According to Leistner, the Atkinson/Tabor Community Commons will be open for use late next summer.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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