[Thursday, January 18, 2024; updated Tuesday, January 23, 2024 ro reflect the new meeting date]
Note: The final design workshop originally scheduled for January 21, 2024, has been rescheduled for February 3, 2024.
Ida B. Wells Public Design Workshop
Saturday, February 3, 1-3pm
Ida B. Wells High School Cafeteria
Light lunch provided at 12:30pm
Be sure to check the Wells redesign webpage to confirm time and date.
Saturday, February 3, is the final opportunity for the public to weigh in on what a new Ida B. Wells campus will look like. Cleveland and Wells are the remaining campuses in line for a makeover as part of a years-long school modernization initiative undertaken by Portland Public Schools (PPS).
The Wells design team is expected to present two new site plan options at the meeting on February 3, followed by discussion activities and surveys of priorities. The goal of this meeting is to narrow down the design ideas and create one plan to present to the school board for their approval.
Narrowing the options from three to two
Three design concepts for a new building and campus layout were presented for comment at the previous public workshop, held on December 17, 2023. Approximately 50 people attended that meeting.
Students will continue to attend classes in the existing building during construction, limiting locations for the new building to west of the current site.
Each of the three options presented on December 17 include renovation of the softball field (located next to Rieke Elementary) and baseball field. All plans eliminate pass-through vehicle access on the east side of campus and include a gated security fence enclosing the entire campus, with the exception of the pool, pickleball/tennis courts, and parking.
Attendees were invited to provide input on what they liked and didn't like about the options presented. Steffee Knudsen, lead architect for Bora, the firm engaged by PPS to design the new campus, pointed out that feedback, both negative and positive, would inform the next round of options. "That's why we're here," Knudsen said in response to feedback critical of aspects of the plans presented, "to learn what works and what doesn't."
Community feedback at the December design workshop
Concerns expressed during the Q&A portion of the meeting included pool location, pedestrian access, indoor air quality, and parking, among others.
One of the options presented floats the possibility of moving the public swimming pool, located on the Wells campus but owned and operated by Portland Parks, to Vermont St. at the southeast corner of the campus.
Hillsdale commercial property owner Chris Braidwood-Reid read a letter from Mike Roach, co-owner of Paloma Clothing, expressing concerns of Hillsdale businesses centered around the potential pool relocation. "We respectfully ask you to please find other ways of re-building the school that will not so predictably damage the business district and its small business owners," Roach said in his statement. In Roach's estimation, moving the pool and its parking further from the business district would detrimentally impact businesses in Hillsdale, which rely substantially on traffic driven by pool attendance in the summer to make up for reduced customer visits during the break from school.
The proposed new pool location is also further from Capitol Hwy bus stops.
Will the new campus layout prioritize pedestrian access from transit stops on Capitol Hwy and provide enough parking so that student parking doesn't spill out into the neighborhood? Don Baack, founder of SW Trails PDX, urged planners to engage with TriMet to get a realistic picture of how many households in the Wells boundary are located near a bus line serving the school. Students living further than half a mile from a bus stop are unlikely to use public transportation and Southwest's topography and lack of bicycle infrastructure make private vehicle still the most likely way for students to get to school, Baack stated.
Effie Greathouse commented on behalf of Safe Indoor Air For Oregon Schools, an organization advocating for clean air for students in Portland Public Schools, requesting that planners ensure safe indoor air quality in new Wells classrooms. The advocacy group claims that other high schools that have been upgraded in the Portland district have not delivered in this area and urged the community to "demand that PPS do better" with the Wells redesign.
Neighborhood concerns extend beyond new campus design
Mike Roach's letter is a timely reminder for the Hillsdale community to pay attention to the process as well as the product: Construction lasting up two years (and beyond, once work on the athletic fields is completed) will be disruptive to the flow of the neighborhood no matter which design is chosen.
Where will the trucks and building supplies be staged during construction? How will access by vehicle as well as by foot and bicycle be maintained? Hundreds of students arrive at Rieke and Wells each school day, and many Hillsdale residents living to the east and south of both schools rely on routes through the campus to reach the business district, bus lines on Capitol Hwy, the library, and Robert Gray Middle School. While the school district has signalled plans to allow the Farmers' Market to continue to operate in the same location after the rebuild, Market managers expect that they will likely have to relocate during construction.
In his letter, Roach included a request to minimize disruption of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market and to maintain pedestrian access along the north side of campus during construction. If the Market is forced to relocate during construction, the impact on the business district could be "devastating" he wrote, and restricted pedestrian access could force more neighborhood customers to drive, putting increased pressure on already limited business parking.
New bond in the planning stages
Construction of new campuses for Wells and Cleveland will be paid for by a new bond, expected to appear on the Fall 2024 ballot. Because the new bond will replace previous school district constructions bonds, taxpayers are not likely to see an increase in their tax bill.
What are your hopes for a new Wells campus? What are your concerns? Let us know.