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Planning Advances for New Ida B. Wells Building

[October 7, 2023]

Taking up where planning left off in 2020, Portland Public Schools has selected an architect and appointed a new committee to design the replacement for the 1954 building housing Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School.

Architectural model of original 1956 design. Reprinted from the 2020 Wilson Conceptual Master Plan Report.

From 1945 to 1970, a series of bond measures were approved to fund the upgrade and construction of new PPS facilities, including the building of Wilson (now Wells) High School in 1954 for a price tag of $3 million. A 1995 bond addressed technology, seismic, and accessibility updates.

Around 2010, with an inventory of aging buildings and deferred maintenance becoming critical, PPS began the multi-year process of modernizing its schools. Portland voters have approved three bonds since 2012, with a fourth expected to fund upgrades at Wells and Cleveland, the only two comprehensive high schools yet to be modernized. Funds from the 2020 bond are paying for the design process for the final two high schools.

Two concept images from the 2020 Wilson Conceptual Master Plan.

PPS held a series of community meetings over a four-month period in 2019 that resulted in the Conceptual Master Plan Report, released in 2020. Recommendations included: tearing down the existing building and replacing it entirely, keeping the swimming pool on-site (the City's Parks and Recreation department owns and operates the pool and would potentially need to find money for upgrades), maintaining current community amenities (pool, Hillsdale Farmers' Market, SW Trails walking routes) and adding new ones (community access to theater, gym, shop space, and others).

The 2020 report included the recommendation that students remain in the old building during construction of the new one, similar to the recently completed rebuild of Lincoln High School.

PPS Bond Communications Manager David Mayne says that while the 2020 report will be a starting point for the next phase of the design process, the new committee will not be restricted by those plans. The guidelines for the committee say that, "While members are not tasked with making final decisions, their input is crucial in creating a comprehensive plan that the entire community can be proud of."

The newly appointed Comprehensive Planning Committee will meet with district staff and the architects over the next six months, starting with its first meeting on October 11. Meetings will be open to the public for observation only, with a ten-minute opportunity for public comment at the end of the meetings. Meeting materials and notes will be posted online.

Pending final approval by the PPS Board of Education, Portland firm Bora Architects has been selected to draft plans a for a new building for Wells. See examples of their work, including many educational buildings in the Portland area, here:

Two completed projects designed by Bora Architects. Top photo is Lincoln High School; bottom photo is Central Catholic High School. Photos:

Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting schedule:

All meetings are 6-8pm in the Ida B. Wells Library

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Design workshops and open houses will be offered for members of the community to comment on the design process.

Tentative dates are:

October 29, 1-3pm, Wells Cafeteria

December 17, 1-3pm, Wells Cafeteria

January 21, 1-3pm, Wells Cafeteria

Check the PPS webpage here to confirm meeting dates, times, and locations.

The unofficial target date for groundbreaking is sometime in 2026, with doors opening in 2028.

Whether this process ends with a new building depends on Portland voters approving another PPS bond, which could be included on the November 2024 ballot.

For information on the rebuild planning and the bond, keep an eye on PPS' Ida B. Wells Modernization Planning & Design page and sign up to receive email updates.

—Valeurie Friedman


Will another school bond pass? Or are Portlanders more hesitant to approve tax measures these days? Let us know what you think.


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