Thousands of Oregon school children return to class this week. That includes students showing up to the first of several new high schools Portland is building.
As planned, just one of the three Portland schools under construction will be ready for students this school year: Roosevelt High School. The school was originally set to open for classes Monday, but students will now return Tuesday, said PPS. The delay will provide teachers with additional time to prepare classrooms for the first day of school.
Roosevelt was built differently from Franklin High School and Faubion K-8, the other two PPS schools that crews started rebuilding last year. Roosevelt kept its students on the North Portland campus, while part of the school was rapidly built over the last 15 months. Franklin students were moved to the Marshall High School campus and Faubion students went to the Tubman school building — relocations that will continue for the 2016-17 school year.
That makes the highly diverse, mostly low-income students at the North Portland high school the first to experience a new PPS school in a decade and and the first to attend a new high school in several decades. For Roosevelt upperclassmen, it’ll be a huge improvement over the run down building they’d previously attended, Principal Filip Hristic said.
“I had a chance to see some of the challenges that our students, staff, coaches were dealing with. Our weight room was deep in the dungeon, in the basement, poor ventilation, poor equipment,” Hristic said, after concluding a recent tour of the new high school.
Hristic is in his third year as Roosevelt High principal, so he saw last year’s excitement and chaos as construction started, as well as the poor condition of the Roosevelt facility the year before construction.
“We literally had one operating drinking fountain in a whole building,” Hristic said. “And whenever that fountain broke down, or a filter needed to be replaced, we had to bring in jugs of water. We only had a couple of functioning restrooms and we still made it work.”
A school district analysis in 2012 rated Roosevelt as the high school with the greatest repair needs, in a district with dozens of aging buildings.
“The facilities did not support the kind of work that our teachers could do, our coaches could do, and our students could do,” Hristic said.
The money to rebuild Roosevelt came from the $462 million bond Portland voters approved in 2012. Construction on the Roosevelt site started in May 2015 after years of planning.
In late August, Portland Public Schools officials led school board members and reporters on a tour of Roosevelt High School’s three floors of brand new classrooms, maker spaces and athletic facilities. On the tour, vice principal Keylah Boyer said they are excited to come back to the new school.
“It feels like we’ve started to embark on a new journey, and a journey that we’re excited to take our students on and also the neighborhood on,” Boyer said. “Our roots are very deep in St. Johns and the North Portland community.”
Roosevelt administrators are reluctant to refer to the project as “new” Roosevelt, because of those ties to the community and the past. Those roots are reflected in design choices like embedding the center of the old basketball court in a nearby lobby floor and using parts of the old bleachers to dress up a cinder block wall.
Construction will continue on the $90 million project this school year.
Portland Public Schools Chief of School Modernization Jerry Vincent said crews were working seven-day weeks over the summer to get enough of the school finished so that students would have the space to attend classes.
Students will spend most of their time in the new areas, though they’ll use the cafeteria, school office and modular classrooms that were previously existing parts of campus. Crews will work during the school day to renovate and rebuild the older parts of Roosevelt, while students work in the new section — a flip of the situation last year.
Portland school board members have frequently disagreed on policy decisions in recent months, when they sit on the dais at the administrative building. Aspects of Roosevelt’s modernization were controversial too with board members bucking the recommendations of its bond advisors to increase the project budget, so they could provide more space for career technical education.
But the board members who toured Roosevelt, were unanimous in their support of what students and staff are returning to. On the recent tour, Paul Anthony, Pam Knowles, Tom Koehler and Mike Rosen used words like “happy,” “impressive,” or favorable comparisons to recently-built high schools in nearby suburban districts.
Hristic said he enjoyed showing off the building to a group of about 30 returning students, who helped orient incoming freshmen earlier this month.
“Everybody, of course, was just blown away,” he said.