Grant moves ‘Tabor Commons’ project forward

Remember the “drive-through meth stop” on SE Division Street that was busted, closed, and all set to become a community center? See what challenges – including huge underground gas tanks – it still faces …

SE Uplift Chair Paul Leistner looks at the “Tabor Commons” roof that needs to be replaced.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
From the rooftop above to the tanks below, it’s going to take some doing before the former SE Division Street “Drive-thru Wake-up and Deli” is finally transformed into the Atkinson/Tabor Commons Community Center.

Still leading the transformational process is neighbor Paul Leistner, Chair of SE Uplift neighborhood coalition.

Leistner reminds us that the store’s former owner was arrested, and pled guilty to charges of supplying large quantities of pseudoephedrine to local meth labs. “The property was seized by the federal government. We worked with the federal government to get community ownership of this property.”

SE Uplift actually owns the land and building on behalf of the Mt. Tabor neighborhood Association, the South Tabor neighborhood Association, and the Atkinson PTA, Leistner noted. “We look forward to using the facility for classes, community meetings, and events – festivals and celebrations.”

But, before this former gas station, located across the street from Atkinson Elementary School, becomes a family-friendly center run by a nonprofit organization, it needs some work.

Replacing a 50-year-old roof
“We also just found out that we needed a new roof on the building,” Leistner revealed. “The metal roof is 50 years old; the project is going to be challenging. We wanted to do an eco-roof; this is our opportunity.”

Problem is, he said, eco-roofs are heavy. “We need to reinforce the building to be strong enough to carry the additional weight. We’re working with our volunteer engineers and advisory people to figure out what that would cost, and how we would do that.”

Leaking tanks pollute site
Additional bad news is that huge, leaking, steel gas tanks are buried under the property.

But there is some good news too – the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department has now awarded the project a $96,000 grant to clean up the contaminated land.

Clark Henry, manager of the “brownfield program” with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, explained the situation.

“A ‘brownfield’ is a site that isn’t used, because the ground or buildings are contaminated,” said Henry. “We see this at old gas stations, dry cleaners, metal-plating facilities, and manufacturing sites.”

Remediation is a three-step process, Henry went on: “First, we gather an environmental history to let us know what the site’s use was. Next, we take soil and groundwater samples to evaluate the steps that are needed to meet DEQ’s environmental regulatory standards. Tests on this site revealed that while the soil is contaminated near the tanks, the contamination didn’t migrate across the street to the elementary school’s property.”

The final phase of remediation is removing the asphalt pavements, the tanks, and the contaminated soil.

Clark Henry, manager of the Brownfield program with BES, as well as Chris Breemer, senior project manager at GeoEngineers, and Paul Leistner look at the area on this community property where old leaking gasoline storage tanks will soon be dug up.

Excavation to start in June
At the site on Division Street, we also spoke with Chris Breemer, senior project manager at GeoEngineers. They’re the general contractors that will oversee the decontamination process.

“They’ve hired us to manage the removal of the underground storage tanks and remediation of the contaminated soil,” said Breemer. “We know that there are four gas takes in the ground; there may be a fifth one. We don’t know how far down we’ll actually dig until we actually get in there. The tanks are probably 10 to 12 feet deep.”

The contaminated dirt will be taken to a landfill in Hillsboro which is set up to manage petroleum-contaminated soil, Breemer noted. “The tanks will be recycled; they’re made of steel. If there are any fluids in the tanks, a lot of those can be recycled as well.”

Unique opportunity at hand
After beefing up the building, installing a new eco-roof, and taking out the tanks, volunteers still need to raise funding to renovate the building’s gutted interior.

We asked Leistner why he’s willing to work so hard to see this product through.

“It’s such a rare opportunity when people in the community can actually get control of a piece of commercial property,” Leistner replied. “It’s an opportunity, especially when it’s being turned from a blatant problem into a community facility that brings together two neighborhoods and a school. It could be a model for other communities to do something similar.”

Depending on the level of donations, as well as volunteer help, the community center could be open as soon as this summer, Leistner said.

To get involved, or learn more, contact Leistner at (503) 232-0010, or e-mail him at

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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