Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

When Baker School District leaders heard that the LDS church was looking to sell 12.2 acres on Hughes Lane just north of the Baker Sports Complex, the deal seemed just too good to pass up, Superintendent Mark Witty said.

So at their February meeting, school board members agreed to spend $160,000 from the District’s Capital Projects fund to buy the property from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We just think it is valuable for multiple uses in the future,” Witty said.

Those uses could range from a possible construction site for a future school building, to a land lab for FFA classes or to provide access to the Baker Sports Complex via Hughes Lane and closer parking for soccer fans.

That’s why, when a community member mentioned that church leaders in Salt Lake City were looking to sell the property, the District made known its desire to buy the land.

The field has previously been leased to the Ward family for farming. Witty said the District will work with the Wards as the transition of ownership is made.

Since the property is contiguous to land the District already owns, it is a natural fit for filling potential future property needs, the superintendent said.

For one, it would provide access to the soccer fields from Hughes Lane.

“The soccer fields are quite a ways away from any parking,” Witty noted.

The fields are at the north end of the Sports Complex, and the parking area is at its south end.

Another possible use, although nothing has been decided, Witty said, would be for students to use the acreage for growing crops.

“As an actual place to go to practice what we’re learning,” he said.

Witty said that as a student at Adrian High School south of Ontario, his FFA program planted corn in such a field.

“We had test plots and learned about what grew best,” he said. “Then we sold the corn to support the FFA program.”

Baker High School also has a history of using a land lab for its FFA projects under the leadership of the late Lew Robbins, a former longtime FFA adviser at the school, Witty said.

Recommendations for any future school construction would be made by a 25-member group of District stakeholders who will spend most of the next year developing a Long-Range Facilities Plan, Witty said.

The group will meet with school staff, students and community and local government leaders as they con duct their work.

An earlier group, the Facilities Master Planning Committee, told the Board in November that the most urgent needs for building improvements throughout the District are estimated to cost about $26.7 million.

That committee worked with consultants Scott Rogers, and Caryn Appler of Wenaha Group of Pendleton. LKV architects of Boise and Kirby Naglehout Construction Co. of Bend also helped consider building needs in the initial review.

The Oregon Department of Education awarded the District a $20,000 facilities assessment grant and a $25,000 grant for the long-range facilities plan to help pay for the preliminary efforts.

Witty said the planning group will consider all aspects of providing adequate space for District students and programs, which could lead to a recommendation to build on the newly acquired site or any of the District’s properties.

“We are in a process,” Witty said. “Where that will lead I just don’t know.”

See more in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.