Historic, but vacant, Nathan Clifford School drawing interest from potential buyers

Starting in the fall of the current school year, the student body of the former Nathan Clifford School officially and completely transitioned into the newly built Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

Nathan Clifford School

That left the historic and spacious Nathan Clifford Elementary School building without an academic purpose, and in a long expected move, the Portland School Board at its Tuesday night meeting will consider transferring ownership of the structure to the city to be reused or placed on the market.

According to a memo to the board from former board chairman and newly minted Chief Operations Officer Peter Eglinton, potential buyers have already kicked the proverbial tires on the place.

Said Eglinton in his memo:

The Nathan Clifford Elementary School’s character and presentation should be attractive to developers. Indeed, we have already had inquiries expressing interest.

The resolution before the board includes language aimed at ensuring proceeds from the reuse or sale of the building will be directed back to the school district, which operates under city oversight, for capital improvement needs.

The property shuffling may follow the precedent set in 2004, when money from the sale of the district’s Martin’s Point facility was placed in a reserve fund, helped cover a central office relocation at the time as well as implementation of the Elementary Facilities Master Plan, according to documentation distributed to the board this week.

Resulting from that sale, $3 million was placed in the Cumulative Reserve Fund more than five years ago, of which $340,000 currently remains.

Beverly Coursey — who transitioned with the kids, serving as the last principal at Nathan Clifford and the first at Ocean Avenue — characterized the older school as one that, despite its historical value, needed to be replaced in the district. The building’s only bathrooms were in the basement, she said, and patchwork repairs over time were becoming less and less sufficient to keep the place clean and healthy for students.

But in its time, the school, designated a Portland Landmark in 1989, served city kids well.

The Nathan Clifford School was designed by renowned architect John Calvin Stevens, named after a 19th century Portland lawyer who went on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and opened in 1907 with a reported enrollment of 200.

The school had about 315 students in its final academic year of operation, 2010-11.

According to a proclamation read by then-Mayor and current city councilor Nicholas Mavodones at the school’s centennial anniversary, in 2002-03 it was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for “sustained academic achievement with a culturally and socio-economically diverse population.”

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.