The plan to modernize Jefferson High School in North Portland is moving forward.
Project managers from Portland Public Schools shared two main proposals for the modernization. One option would renovate the school’s main 1909 building and include new additions. A second option would completely replace the current school and build up the school’s presence on North Alberta Street.
Both plans would keep the school’s gym, built in 1964.
“The gym, I think, was an important factor, just people’s connection to it,” said Steve Effros, a PPS project manager. “It’s quite a nice gym, it may not function in the same way that it does currently, but it’s a great facility that we’re trying to preserve.”
During outreach efforts that included focus groups and one-on-one meetings, district officials said community members expressed a desire for welcoming spaces and teachers from diverse backgrounds at the new Jefferson High. People also said the new school should honor cultural history as well as acknowledge the injustices faced by the surrounding North Portland community, including displacement.
“One of the concerns that we’re hearing, people are worried about the loss of cultural connection to the school,” said PPS project manager Ayana Horn.
Jefferson is the latest Portland school to be modernized using funds from voter-approved bonds. Lincoln High School, the latest completed project, reopened this fall, and construction is underway at Benson Polytechnic High School.
Officials say the renovation option for Jefferson is similar to the district’s completed projects at Franklin, Grant, McDaniel, and Roosevelt high school campuses. The rebuild option is most similar to the Lincoln High School project.
Construction is set to begin in 2024 on Jefferson, with a Fall 2028 goal for completion. The goal is for students to continue attending school on-site during construction.
The district has scheduled a final presentation to the community on Nov. 16 from 4:00-8:00 pm. After that meeting, the Comprehensive Planning Committee will meet one more time before presenting a final plan to the board.
The meeting also included an update on efforts to relocate Harriet Tubman Middle School.
The North Portland school on a bluff over Interstate 5 is being moved to make way for a freeway expansion. Two of the three possible sites for Tubman are on the Jefferson campus, with the third at the former Humboldt Elementary School property. The Humboldt campus is now home to KairosPDX, a charter school. An analysis of each site was shared during a September meeting of the board’s Facilities and Operations committee, and the relocation discussion is ongoing.
During the meeting, PPS project managers shared trade-offs for each site and how each proposed relocation would impact both Jefferson and Tubman school communities. Each proposed site would include the loss of sports fields for either or both schools.
Wednesday’s meeting, originally scheduled for an hour, stretched nearly thirty minutes over the original end time. Community members attending the meeting in person remarked about the lack of community outreach and low attendance at town hall meetings. Wanting more information about the project is a theme district officials acknowledged hearing throughout their community engagement efforts.
The PPS officials, as well as representatives from a contractor company called Colloqate, talked about their efforts, which have included connecting with current Jefferson students during classes, receiving feedback from a group of alumni, as well as outreach to feeder middle schools for the perspectives of the next generation of Jefferson students.
District officials said they will attempt better communication with community members and more flexibility around meetings.
Some attendees expressed concern that outreach efforts haven’t been led by community members or people who grew up in the neighborhood. Jefferson principal Drake Shelton, new this year but a Grant High School graduate, said even he’s had trouble getting parents and community members to attend meetings at the school
“What can we do differently to get the different demographics here to be represented?” he asked the audience.
Wednesday’s meeting is available to watch on Youtube but it can be hard to hear, especially toward the end of the meeting. There are no captions available. The slideshow presented at the meeting is here.
In addition to the Nov. 16 open house, there is a Historic Landmarks Commission public hearing scheduled for Nov. 14 to give feedback on the design options. The second meeting of that commission is expected early next year.
The Jefferson comprehensive plan goes to the board for a vote in December.