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LESSONS LEARNED:
•Portland Public Schools gained valuable tools and a process by which to engage their communities in shaping their district's future.
• Schools can create community centers with appropriate partners and gain community support.
• A community and a city's identity can be restored if schools can make appropriate public partnerships, as well as provide academic curricula that supports and enhances, the community's future.
• Schools with K-12 programs that allow partnerships with colleges are more successful in retention and enrollment. Long-term road maps allow students to develop loyalty, and that kind of commitment reinforces the success of a school.
• A school must have a "brand," both as an academic and a community center. Students and communities identify with "Iconic" schools.
• Creative business partnerships allow schools to minimize the cost of infrastructure and their physical plant. Allowing fields to be shared by others may provide opportunities for schools to generate revenue.
• Schools that are arranged into individual, specialized academies often have better security than large schools and and can become localized centers of excellence.
• School buildings with a prolonged history of neglect fall into a pattern that will not allow for their preservation in the long term. Failing to preserve buildings that have community and architectural value results in a social cost.
• It is often better to start over than to try and save buildings that are functionally obsolete.
Building Great K-12 Schools in Economically Challenging Times
In these tough times making good school design decisions has never been more difficult or more important. To find out how some of the nation’s top architects and administrators are coping with these challenges attend Architectural Record’s Schools of the 21st Century Symposium. It will be held Friday, April 9th, at the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago, the day before the NSBA Conference. The event is free of charge and is being presented with the support of McGraw-Hill Education and the American Architectural Foundation.

Click here for more information.

Jefferson High School
Portland Public Schools, Portland, Oregon
Some vintage school buildings aren't worth saving, even if the history and tradition that surround them are.

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Portland Public Schools is the largest school district in the Pacific Northwest. Eighty-five percent of all students within its boundaries attend public schools, and its current enrollment is about 46,000. Over the past 10 years, funding has declined dramatically, enrollment has contracted, and educational quality has slid downhill, particularly at the high school level. To address these issues, the school board and superintendent have worked to stabilize funding and began to realign educational programs to improve results. They closed schools and began re-evaluating their remaining facilities. The district has a total of 96 school buildings, with an average age of 62 years. Most facilities are in need of modernization, repair, or replacement. Jefferson High School, in particular, is one that deserves significant attention. The district has only constructed two new schools in the past 30 years.



Proud Jefferson High School
Jefferson High was built in 1909 and was home to many championship athletic teams, such as this fiesty group of sluggers photographed back in 1916.
Photos © Bryan Becker


JHS team from left: John Weekes, AIA, Dull Olson Weekes Architects; Justin Devers, facilities, PPS; Pat Bosch, Perkins + Will; John Wilhelmi, director of high schools; Cynthia Harris, principal, Jefferson High; Algie Gatewood, president, Portland Community College; Paul Winslow, FAIA, Orcutt/Winslow, Cathy Mincberg, COO, PPS
Photo: courtesy Portland Public Schools.

THE CHALLENGE

To lift the human spirit is a goal that transcends ethnicity, social class, and personal history. Jefferson High School has the potential to recreate its previous luster as a school known for both academics and athletics. Enrollment once reached over 3,000 students; today it has fewer than 700. They are ethnically diverse students, and most are from low-income households. The building, which was once a handsome and impressive facility that showed the prominence that education held in the community, is no longer functional.

Discussion of the current condition of the buildings on the campus revealed that repair and refurbishment is difficult. Although the building is safe for use, the presence of asbestos in its building materials makes even the most minor repairs and improvements cost prohibitive. Additions have created a maze of corridors. Further, the original glorious building had been amputated by the removal of sections of the original hipped roof, which adds to the utilitarian feel of the campus. Furthermore, the campus's playing fields are split by the building, causing difficulties in managing safety.

On the bright side, several improvements in the organization of the school are already underway. First, it has initiated four academies: Arts and Technology, Science and Technology, the Young Men's Academy, and the Young Women's Academy. The Young Women's Academy is located at a separate site, but, it would be preferable for all to be together. A major advantage the school has is that it is adjacent to one of Portland Community College's campuses and an elementary school. There are many advantages to having a K-14 continuum, and the opportunity for students from Jefferson to earn college and high school credit concurrently.


Once-glorious Jefferson High School is not what it used to be. Its hip roof was removed, and its deteriorating brickwork covered with paint and plaster.
Photo: courtesy Portland Public Schools

THE SOLUTION

While modernization was considered briefly, the charrette team quickly came to the conclusion that the best option was to replace Jefferson with a series of new buildings. One building would accommodate each of the four academies that have been established, a key principle for the organization of the new campus. Each academy needs to have a sense of autonomy, including a separate entrance, but some functions, such as an auditorium and administration, would be shared.

As conceived, interaction between academies would be limited. This requirement led the team to organize the academy buildings on an open green space, like a mall. To optimize solar orientation for daylighting, classroom blocks were oriented on an east-west axis, creating individualized courtyards between the building blocks.

The auditorium and administration functions would be in a new a facility that would occupy the site across the street from the Portland Community College campus. This building was conceptualized as having many purposes, among them being that it needed to be not just a school building but a point of connection to the community.

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