Cases of water bottles line the hallways at Rose City Park school in Portland, Oregon.

Cases of water bottles line the hallways at Rose City Park school in Portland, Oregon.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

Oregon’s largest school district has begun planning how to complete $790 million worth of construction work, funded by the Portland bond measure approved in May.

Portland’s bond campaign focused on fixing lead problems — including the lead in school drinking water that forced out Superintendent Carole Smith.  

Portland Public Schools’ head of facilities, David Hobbs, told the school board he wasn’t sure how many schools would have lead-free water by next school year.  

“How much work we can accomplish this summer is going to be purely driven by how many plumbers I can pull out of the marketplace to work with our general contractors and our mechanical contractors,” Hobbs said. 



The other big unanswered question is how to sequence the four schools getting the most work.

Modernization director Dan Jung offered a starting point.

“The plan would be to start with the two smallest and simplest projects,” Jung said. 

That means first rebuilding Kellogg Middle School and renovating Madison High School.

The district said the Lincoln and Benson high school projects are more expensive and more complicated.

PPS Chief Operating Officer Jerry Vincent acknowledged there could be a case to start with other projects first. But he suggested there are benefits to doing Benson and Lincoln later because of how complex they are. 

Vincent noted Lincoln is in a dense part of downtown Portland and will require careful planning as a result. He also offered two other reasons to plan on more time for Lincoln: The project will have to go through the city’s design review process and school leaders need time to form partnerships in a re-envisioned urban high school.

Others are quietly pushing to speed up Lincoln, given the school’s overcrowding.

In this 2017 file photo, District Chief of Modernization Jerry Vincent led a tour through the remodeled Franklin High School. 

In this 2017 file photo, District Chief of Modernization Jerry Vincent led a tour through the remodeled Franklin High School. 

Laura Klinkner/OPB

Board Vice-Chair Amy Kohnstamm questioned the proposal from the district’s facilities leaders. She suggested running the proposals — including the preferred sequencing of the rebuilt schools — past the bond advisory committee.  

“There’s a lot more that I feel like I need to know before I feel sufficiently convinced that this option is the most compelling,” Kohnstamm said.

Kohnstamm is from the zone that includes Lincoln. She agreed that Kellogg should probably be built first, and that Benson should go last, saying “Benson is the most complex.”

Benson faces hurdles, as well, Vincent and Jung told school board members.

The original structure simultaneously has significant seismic risk due to its prevalence of unreinforced masonry and requires special design standards due the school’s historic characteristics.

Like Lincoln, Benson supporters hope to work with partners on new plans and programs at the district’s premiere career-technical high school.