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Design Options for IBW High School Narrowed to Two

[January 31, 2024]

Final Ida B. Wells Public Design Workshop

Saturday, February 3, 1-3pm

Ida B. Wells High School Cafeteria

Light lunch provided at 12:30pm

Originally planned for January 21, this meeting was rescheduled due to weather. This is the final opportunity for public comment on the design of the new Wells campus.


The Ida B. Wells High School campus will be rebuilt as part of the modernization of Portland Public Schools facilities. Voters must approve a bond measure, expected on the November 2024 ballot, for the project to proceed. Construction could start as early as 2026 with a new building ready for students in 2028. Classes will be held in the current building during construction to minimize disruption for students.

Final opportunity for public input

Based on feedback from a December meeting, the professional design team hired by the school district has drafted two new concepts to be presented at Saturday's workshop.

Above: These two new designs will likely be what attendees see at the February 3 meeting. Image source:

Lead Bora Architect Stefee Knudsen and her team presented the new designs to the volunteer design committee (made up of school staff, students, and community members) on January 22. Each of the designs incorporates one or more design elements that garnered support at earlier public sessions, among them:

  • Maintaining a strong connection with SW Capitol Hwy, which runs near the north border of the property (Scheme 2).

  • Minimizing disruption by keeping major site elements in place (Scheme 1).

  • Orienting buildings to minimize glare and heat in classrooms (both).

  • Limiting building to two or three stories (both).

  • Providing for parking lots on both sides of the building (both).

  • Relocating the baseball field (both).

  • Realigning the orientation of the stadium (Scheme 2).

  • Providing a cross-site vehicle drive (Scheme 1).

For more detail on the two current options, take a look at the January 22 meeting presentation posted here. 

Pool would remain in place; tennis/pickle ball court relocation could be an issue

With this round of options the planning team has abandoned an earlier proposal to move the public swimming pool. The proposed pool relocation was soundly rejected by attendees at the December meeting as an unnecessary expense that would be detrimental to the neighborhood and the Hillsdale business district.

In 2021 the existing ball courts, too small for the high school tennis team, were converted from tennis to pickleball. The courts at Wells were declared off-limits during school hours after community use of the courts exploded, creating a noise problem for nearby classrooms.

Both designs under current consideration call for the pickleball/tennis courts to be relocated to the southeast corner of the campus, addressing the noise problem for classrooms but potentially creating a greater one for neighbors.

The loud "pop" of the plastic balls used in the increasingly popular sport has become a thorny issue for communities all over the country, from Lake Oswego to Maine.

In a January 18 letter to the school district, Burlingame Ave. resident Natalia Bronner expressed concerns about the new court location. Without specific mitigations, already undertaken by cities across the country, she wrote, the new location of the courts would "negatively affect the quality of life of the residents on SW Burlingame Ave and close-by streets."

Balance between school and neighborhood needs

The pickleball courts bring into focus tensions in the planning process that have little to do with educating students. Solutions must balance amenities that benefit the community with the demands of the campus’ educational mission.

The modernization process is driven by "Education Specifications" that spell out the specific elements a new school must have. They include requirements for the number and size of classrooms, athletic facilities, and support services, just to name a few.

The specifications don't call for pickleball courts or a public swimming pool or a farmers' market. Yet these amenities help integrate the school with the surrounding community. They may also well be enticements for the voting public to support the funding measure come November.

Other looming challenges for the district's planners and the community to navigate include managing the 2-3 year construction period and ensuring adequate parking for the new campus.

Next steps

This phase of the planning process includes two additional planning committee meetings (February 13 and March 12; check here for details) and will culminate with the selection of one design that will be sent to the school board for their approval. The school district has not made further timeline details available.

—Valeurie Friedman


Where's the balance? Is a school just for students or must it serve the broader community as well? Let us know what you think.


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