Portland parks series: Northgate Park

Portland parks series: Northgate Park

PORTLAND, Ore. - Some parks are meant for picnics, some for playing with your dog and some for just plain relaxing at on a nice, sunny day.

Northgate Park, though, is one that is meant for some serious play - we're talking soccer, baseball, softball and even kickball.

Every Friday we're putting the spotlight on a local park and for this week's installment we headed to this 10.72-acre park at North Geneva Avenue and Fessenden Street.

The park has been around since 1940 and in addition to its sports fields, it features a playground with new equipment that just went in last year, a tennis court and a water feature that will be turned on this summer when the temperatures warm up.

The park will also be getting a community garden next year. The Portsmouth Neighborhood Association, Portland Public Schools and Portland Parks & Recreation collaborated together to get a small grant from the Portland Development Commission so they could make it happen.

"We're trying to create a social place for the neighbors to get back together," Sue Glenn, Portland Parks & Recreation's Zone Services Manager for North and Northeast Portland, told us.

We stopped by the park on a weekday in the early afternoon and only saw a few folks there. But according to Diana Bartlett, who lives in the neighborhood, the park comes to life late in the day.

"It's a really busy place when the weather is nice," she said, adding that it's quite the popular spot for outdoor sports, especially soccer.

We also talked to Bartlett, who regularly takes her dog and kids to the park, about whether she thought there was a crime element at Northgate.

"Not specifically at the park," she told us. "But there's long been concern about the abandoned school right next door. There continues to be quite a bit of graffiti both in the park and at the school."

The school she is talking about is Clarendon Elementary, which has been sitting empty for several years. The school was one of those that was shut down at the end of the 2006/2007 school year as part of the school district's effort to either close or consolidate some schools to help with the budget.

When we stopped by the park, we took a walk around the school and noticed boards on some of the windows and a little bit of graffiti. All in all, the property didn't look that bad but what struck us most were the signs that remain on some of the classroom windows - the lingering remnants of a school that once bustled with activity.

We talked to Matt Shelby, spokesperson for Portland Public Schools, about the vacant school. He told us they still own the property and there are maintenance workers who stop by to make sure it is secure.

"We've done our best to lock the building up to keep people out," he said.

Shelby did acknowledge that there have been problems with both graffiti and vandalism at Clarendon over the past few years but he added that Portland Public Schools has been working closely with the neighboring community to keep tabs on what's happening there. Residents are encouraged to report incidents.

Shelby also explained that the vacant school could end up being what they call a 'swing school.' Portland Public Schools currently has a $548 million bond measure on the ballot. If voters pass the measure on May 17, the district plans to use the money to rebuild or renovate some of the schools that need attention. During that work, students would be temporarily shifted to one of the district's vacant properties, like Clarendon.

Another item to mention about Northgate Park is the deep sinkhole that formed there back in 2009. It was significant enough that Portland Parks & Recreation closed a soccer field so they could assess the ground and determine how it could be repaired.

According to Glenn, there is a tunnel that runs about 45 feet below the park but Portland Parks & Recreation determined that was not the source of the sinkhole.

"There were no leaks or problems found with the tunnel," she told us.

The sinkhole went underground about 15 to 20 feet. Glenn said they did extensive exploratory excavation at the park and used gravel and other materials to shore up the ground. They never found out what actually caused the sinkhole in the first place.

Today, Portland Parks & Recreation performs daily inspections as they're doing maintenance work at the park.

"About 10 years ago there was another sinkhole in the park," Glenn told us. "I think there are areas in our city that are just prone to them."