Volume X | Issue 2 | Fall 2010
The refurbished wood and brick building opened as the Chehalem Cultural Center in 2010. Photo: Marcus Larson

Cultural center brings change

Community steps up to create arts and recreation center

Five years ago, the Chehalem Cultural Center was just another abandoned building. A former school, the 40,000-square-foot-building sits smack dab in the middle of downtown Newberg. 

In 1997, the Newberg School District, having built a new school, sold the empty Central School to the Newberg Parks and Recreation District for one dollar. The only stipulation was that the building had to remain in the public domain. 

The building will literally change the downtown by its presence

And there it sat for the next eight years, until a community visioning process identified the need for an arts and recreation center, and a group of community leaders stepped up. “We spent the next five years getting the doors open,” says Loni Parrish, one of a handful of Newberg-area residents driving the project. A Technical Assistance Grant from The Ford Family Foundation proved pivotal in the planning stages. Later, a $400,000 grant helped “open doors everywhere,” Parrish says. 

The refurbished wood and brick building opened in early 2010, with the first phase complete — renovation of 10,000 square feet on the first floor for glass and pottery studios, a kiln room, two art classrooms, a recording studio, a technology lab, a central gallery, a main entrance, and office and meeting space. 

The second phase of the $8 million project will see renovation of Central’s old theater, which seats 240, as well as the addition of a dance studio, conference center, ballroom and kitchen.

More than a building

The building has done more for the town of Newberg than simply offer classes and meeting space, Parrish says. “It will literally change the downtown by its presence. People will visit as they drop people off to classes, they will shop, we’ll hold weddings here.”

Craig Smith, the executive director of Rural Development Initiatives, identifies the revitalization of downtown as one of the key ways rural towns can grow their economies. “A healthy and vibrant downtown boosts the economic health and quality of life in a community,” Smith says. “A healthy downtown creates jobs, incubates small businesses, reduces sprawl, retains a community’s heritage, and is a symbol of community pride and history.”

The Chehalem Center Association’s plans to construct a large plaza connected to the cultural center and the downtown library are moving forward, buoyed by enthusiastic buy-in by community groups. 

“The really cool thing about the plaza is that there are so many partners—the library, the city of Newberg, the parks and recreation district, the Newberg Downtown Coalition,” Parrish says. “They all believe the plaza will change and enhance the downtown core. And it all started because of the cultural center.” 

Return to Issue Index
Share this: