An 84-year old blind woman has taken the first step to blocking a Salem City Council decision to side with Salem Hospital and demolish a historic building.

On September 2nd, Beverly Rushing, who was a student at Oregon State School for the Blind in her youth, filed a Notice of Intent to Appeal.  The filing was made to the State of Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA.)  At issue was the city council’s July 28th vote to reverse a decision of the City of Salem’s Historical Landmarks Commission.

A totally blind individual, Mrs. Rushing is a former president of the American Council of the Blind of Oregon.  She attended Lewis and Clark College, managed cafeterias for many years, and now resides in a Salem mobile home park.

In her testimony before the Historical Landmarks Commission earlier this year, Rushing said she lived in Howard Hall at a critically important time in her life and that the “historical significance of the building is important to tthe blind community, and as a historical landmark for all of Salem.”

Patrick Schwab, Ed.D., secretary of the Willamette Chapter of the American Association for the Blind, and Rushing’s son-in-law, supports her in the appeal.  Dr. Schwab says, “the hospital has failed to meet the requirements of city code that would allow the city to remove the historical landmark designation.”

Howard Hall, which currently sits behind a cyclone fence at Mission and Church Streets, was built in 1923 by Oregon architect John V. Bennes to serve as a dormitory for the Oregon School for the Blind, an Oregon institution from 1873 through 2009.

In 2010, Salem Hospital bought the property from the state of Oregon and removed all the buildings except Howard Hall, which is listed in the local historic register.  It now hopes to demolish the building and use that portion of the 8½-acre parcel for an outdoor therapy area.

But on June 17, the City of Salem’s Historic Landmarks Commission denied the hospital’s proposal, saying the hospital had complied with only one of the four criteria required by Salem law for legal demolishment.

Since then, City of Salem staff and the city council have sided with the hospital.  Rushing’s appeal means that she wants Howard Hall to remain and the Landmarks Commission decision to stand.

“This is an important time for the City of Salem,” Schwab says.  “We need to preserve the history of the School for the Blind… If we tear down Howard Hall then how can we say we are interested in preserving any of Salem’s history?”

Salem Health also proposes to cut over 40 trees on the School for the Blind property, removing 8 significant Oregon White Oak trees, another 11 smaller White Oaks and 7 significant Douglas Fir Trees, among others.

The hospital’s plan is to save a total of 4 existing trees on the 8 1/2- acre site.

Update / Clarification

Salem Hospital’s plans show that only about 5 trees would remain on the main part of the 8.3 acre parcel after the grading is done for the parking lot. Some trees would be preserved along the periphery of the site: along Church St, some on Mission Street and along Pringle Creek on the north. According to hospital plans the center of the 8.3 acres would be mostly “clear cut” to allow for the maximum number of parking spaces.