Community enhancement program, a relic of the St. Johns Landfill, winds down with last 14 grants

It’s been 25 years since the St. Johns Landfill closed its gates, since trucks hauling waste to the facility rumbled through nearby North Portland neighborhoods.

A quarter century ago, the companies running those trucks paid fees for the privilege of dumping their waste in the St. Johns Landfill. And even though the trucks have stopped coming, and the St. Johns Prairie is rising where the landfill once stewed, a community enhancement fund still had $1.3 million for community organizations.

Metro’s Community Enhancement Grants started in 1985 as a way of supporting communities that have to deal with the impact of being near one of the four Metro area landfills. Since its inception, the program has invested more than $5 million into North Portland, Northwest Portland, Forest Grove and Oregon City.

With $1.3 million remaining in the North Portland fund, the North Portland Enhancement Grants Committee decided to make its final investments in 2014. Fourteen community organizations were awarded capacity-building grants totaling $594,000, with a final $851,000 committed to supporting the construction of the North Portland Greenway Trail.

Learn more about Metro’s Community Enhancement Grants Program

Historic Kenton Firehouse

A historical landmark and once home to Fire Bureau Company No. 30 and the horses that drew their carriages in 1913, the Historic Kenton Firehouse has a rich history dedicated to public service.

The Historic Kenton Firehouse in North Portland
The Historic Kenton Firehouse in North Portland




A century old building, however, is an asset that takes a lot of maintenance, which is why North Portland Neighborhood Services, a branch of the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement which calls the Firehouse home, applied to be one of the final recipients of the North Portland Enhancement Grants program.

Before the work the $51,320 grant supported broke ground three sides of the building were experiencing significant water vulnerability compromising structure, interior walls and creating pockets of black mold hiding in closets and hallways. Window frames were deteriorating, bricks and mortar were eroding, and a paved path along the back of the building even sloped rainwater toward the building’s foundation.

Combining resources from the enhancement grant award and $29,305 in matching funds from the Portland Development Commission Community Livability Grant program, North Portland Neighborhood Services was able to complete the rehabilitation project last October.

“People realize how important this building is to the community,” said Doretta Schrock, project manager at the neighborhood services department. “It’s not that easy to find meeting space in North Portland that’s available and doesn’t cost a lot of money. When Neighborhood Associations and groups like that are having meetings here we don’t charge for that.”

After Company No. 30 moved out of the Firehouse in 1959 it became a store house for the local police for another 17 years, but was poorly maintained. The building became a decrepit eyesore, and the community wanted something to be done.

A group of volunteers from the North Portland Citizens Committee began to apply for historical landmark status in an effort to restore the building and turn it into a community center. It became the Historic Kenton Firehouse when the designation was awarded in 1976, and restoration began the following year.

The building now not only hosts the North Portland neighborhood offices, but also the North Portland Tool Library, is the meeting place for an array of local neighborhood associations, an event space where people get married and celebrate birthdays, and even the local office of Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, where she meets with constituents.

North Portland Tool Library

Walking down North Schofield Street in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood little more than a sandwich board and intermittent locals hefting tools to their trunks would give you cause to think about what sits beneath the Historic Kenton Firehouse.

The North Portland Tool Library
The North Portland Tool Library




For over 10 years the North Portland Tool Library has been nestled in the basement of the Firehouse, growing its membership base to over 4,500 members, all residents of North Portland. Soon, with the aid of a $49,390 North Portland Enhancement Grant, the Tool Library will be able to implement its first expansion.

Access to the tool library requires descending a steep, narrow cement stairwell into a room packed wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with shelves and bins of tools broken up only by modest pathways to navigate the selection. The enhancement grant and matching funds will allow the library board to tackle some of their longtime goals for safety and accessibility.

The bulk of the grant will support the construction of an independent ground level storage facility. Not only will this structure allow for safer and easier storage of oversized tools such as lawn mowers, but it will house a work bench for tool repair and a space to host workshops, which the library currently holds just six to eight times each year.

“The idea is to erect a structure that compliments the setting of the historic firehouse, surrounded by native plants and a rain garden system,” said Teri Thomas Petersen, volunteer on the library’s board of directors. “So well designed to serve as a photo backdrop for the events held in the courtyard.”

The storage expansion will also be the first area of the tool library to be ADA accessible. To further enhance their accessibility the library will be using some of the grant funds to install an intercom system so that members who are unable to descend the stairwell can communicate and check out tools from the staff stationed in the basement during library hours.

A small percentage of grant funds will also support tackling a checklist of smaller safety upgrades including weatherproofing the stairwell and dehumidifying and waterproofing areas of the basement space.

The North Portland Tool Library was the first of its kind in Portland and has inspired three more currently serving Northeast Portland, inner Southeast Portland and Lents, as well as two in development for Northwest and Southwest Portland.

Momentum Alliance

I am from what they label the “ghetto”
I am from worrying if my mother is going to get caught by ICE
I am from worrying about gang violence
But I’ll tell you what I’m not: I’m not a statistic.

This poem, by 19-year-old Momentum Alliance Youth Director Vanessa Dominguez, opened the organizations application for a capacity-building grant in the final North Portland Enhancement Grant cycle in 2014.

Training and funding for Dominguez’a position as Youth Director through 2015 is one of an array of strategies Momentum Alliance planned to increase community impact with a $48,280 enhancement grant from Metro.

Momentum Alliance engages underrepresented youth in Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington and Clark Counties in leadership projects and apprenticeships to empower a generation of community advocates, leaders and decision-makers.

This project focuses on staff and leadership succession and skills development and will allow us to employ three North Portland emerging young leaders, specifically training them in capacity building skills that further strengthen the sustainability of the organization, from strategic planning and fund development to program evaluation and communication.

Columbia Slough Watershed Council

The Equity and Inclusion Project will increase the capacity of theColumbia Slough Watershed Council to serve the diverse socio-economic and cultural communities within North Portland by preparing personnel, investing in structure, and adapting programming to continue to do what it does best, connecting the community with their watershed.

Community Alliance of Tenants

The Community Alliance of Tenants is building a renter community in North Portland to understand their rights and responsibilities as renters as well as learn how to engage and participate in civic opportunities. The group is working to build a base of engaged renters in North Portland that will lead to the participation in the civic processes.

Friends of Baltimore Woods

Friends of Baltimore Woods is a volunteer organization begun in 1998 to secure and preserve a greenway between Cathedral and Pier Parks in North Portland. The organization plans to review its structure and processes. The group hopes to develop an organizational development plan to make a more efficient and sustainable organization.

Friends of the North Portland Willamette Greenway Trail

This group is striving to raise awareness of and funding to construct the North Portland Willamette Greenway Trail. Grant funds would be used to hire an experienced professional fundraiser to work with volunteers to create and implement a strategic plan and fundraising strategy to attract partners and potential funders.

Friends of Trees

Friends of Trees has planted thousands of trees over the past 25 years, however, it has been more successful engaging newer residents compared to existing (often minority) residents. The group would like to work with the Center for Diversity and the Environment to create a strategy to engage all residents.

Golden Harvesters, Inc.

Golden Harvesters focus projects will be teaching job skills through investing in computers; equipment needed for a certified kitchen for teaching, training, and services with the ability to serve hot meals to seniors. The group will generate revenue and improve communications with local businesses by advertising, improving the appearance and safety of the neighborhood.

Janus Youth Programs

To support the transition of Village Gardens, a program with a 12-year history of successfully serving North Portland communities, from a program of Janus to its own non-profit organization. This transition will better position Village Gardens to address the needs of North Portland communities for years to come.

North by Northeast Community Health Center

Building on the North by Northeast Community Health Center’s success in improving community members’ health, the group will transition from a free clinic for uninsured only to a community health home providing services to residents of North/Northeast Portland covered by Oregon Health Plan.

Roosevelt High School

The Roosevelt High School Extended Learning Academy will expand learning time through after school tutoring, Saturday Academy and Summer School to prevent students from falling behind and to provide acceleration opportunities to help students become college ready and career focused.

St. Johns Main Street Coalition

The North Portland Enhancement Grant will support three key priorities for St. Johns Main Street Coalition to ensure its ability to provide long-lasting impact in the community of St. Johns: creating a strong board, a strong community engagement and equity plan, and a strong strategic vision and plan.

St. Johns Farmers Market

The aim of this project is transition the St. Johns Farmers Market into a fiscally sustainable organization that will continue to serve the community and be a strong anchor in the economic revitalization of North Portland and St. Johns.

Original feature appeared at Metro News.
Photo by Jennifer Park. See more in the photography portfolio.