LINCOLN LOGS 2: Parents weigh in on school design
Architects from Bora Architecture presented their schematic designed for the new Lincoln High School to parents and interested locals in the school cafeteria on Wednesday night.
Bora principal Chris Linn said "This is our 31st public meeting on this project, and there's not a meeting goes by that we don't get a good idea from the community."
A new Lincoln was estimated to cost $187 million before voters were asked to pass the bond. Now that figure is $245 million.
Erik Gerding, a PPS bond director, started the meeting by acknowledging the cost overruns, saying that they had gone up "more than usual" but reassured the room that the board of education does not want to cut the program. This means the school will have all the classrooms, gyms, media rooms, etcetera, that it needs. "So, the challenge is to make it cost effective," he said. He added that public input was essential.
No tennis, no pool
The building will be a hybrid of two ideas – one was a low-slung courtyard based model, the other was a nine-story tower. The design they decided on is a seven-story tower with a courtyard. Because a fire lane must be kept clear across where 17th Avenue is, most of the building will be squeezed into the west end of the site overlooking the Multnomah Athletic Club.
The architects spent some time explaining how the site constrains what they can build. As well as the fire lane, they want one main entrance, which has to be on the north west corner. (This will be facing a 12-story mixed use tower going up across Salmon Street.) They do have an exception from the City of Portland, which normally does not allow new buildings downtown to have surface parking lots, to build 100 parking spots underneath the bleachers.
Linn described the site as like an Escher drawing, in that it has slopes going in many directions. "Walking the perimeter it felt like we were going downhill all the way." That makes providing "universal access" or ADA compliance hard, because at times the sidewalks are way lower and way higher than the edge of the building.
Carol Mayer-Reed, of the landscape architects Mayer/Reed, went into depth about the history of the site, how it was once home to Chinese shanties and was bisected by Tanner Creek. The 1950s school now sits on 90 feet of infill, which makes digging and drainage difficult. Certain trees such as the heritage walnut tree beside the I-405 freeway must be saved, but a sequoia near the MAX station will probably have to be felled.
The first question from the parents was how confident was the architect in the timeline of opening in 2022 and having the new athletic field finished in 2023?
Linn of BORA said he was "very confident."
Asked about density, he replied that the school has 1,700 students now, and as the neighborhood gets more and more dense with new apartments (stretching from downtown to Slabtown), the new building could accommodate up to 2,100 students. Given the constrained site it would be impossible to add more buildings in future, and the school district would instead have to limit student numbers by redefining the boundary.
Asked if there would be a student drop off zone, he said there would be a turnout but not a turnaround, and that it could not handle the type of traffic seen on Salmon Street currently at 8 a.m.
Would the roofs be "usable," asked one parent? "Yes," replied Linn, meaning city code says they have to be either green roofs or hold a solar array. He clarified that they would not be usable in the sense of kids and faculty being allowed out on the roof.
Asked about a community swimming pool, it was confirmed that it wasn't in the budget and, besides, would not look very equitable compared to other schools. Mayer-Reed said If Parks and Recreation wanted to build a pool they could, but they are focusing much of their budget on less well-served parts of east Portland.
Someone asked if there would be informal gathering spaces, not learning spaces, for the kids to hang out in. Linn said the commons (or cafeteria) will fit that role, as it is 12,000 square feet, compared to the current one which is 4,000 square feet.
Another query was about the courtyard and would it be enclosed from the weather. Linn joked that that would make it an atrium. "And," he added, "atriums are really expensive."
There was talk that one of Goose Hollow's three MAX stops, the King's Hill stop, might be closed. Principal Peyton Chapman stood up and said the school was all about equity, whether that was being available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. with things such as tutoring immigrants and PPC adult education, or hosting Model United Nations and LatinX groups such as MEChA. They needed public transit, she explained, even if many of the Lincoln students don't.
Eventually a parent asked what would happen because of the projected cost overruns.
Linn blamed them on the unforseen rising cost of labor, the shortage of subcontractors and the threat of tariffs on building materials. Having so many schools under construction together, plus the airport, was making it hard to find workers. Linn said they could change the scope, the quality of it or the time frame, and that the board was looking at all three.
August 28 is the date
He said Bora and the team are getting ready for a work session on August 13 and the PPS school board meeting on August 28. At the latter, public comment is invited, but it is also the meeting at which the budget for the construction will be set. The district's Office of School Modernization is predicting cost overruns of about $100 million on the $790 millionbond projects, and someone must decide how to save money.
"The board's in an interesting position, trying to keep it, tight, simple and to meet technical standards," said Linn.
He pointed out some alternatives as false economies: Merely remodeling the building while putting students in portables would cost $40 million more than a new school.
Construction of the new building will take place while students are still using the old school. It will be noisy, Linn said, but it would be fenced off so both workers and children would be safe.
A Lincoln student interning at Bora for the summer built the wooden model that parents pored over during a break. The meeting concluded with a landscape visioning exercise where attendees could look at photos of features such as art, grassy knolls and water features, and place them on large maps of the site.
Afterwards Scott Schaffer, a Lincoln parent representing the Goose Hollow neighborhood association, said his big issue as balancing security of the students with the public's need to use the grounds.
"We don't want to feel like a superblock fortress, and being mindful that it be safe. We don't want big Trump-like walls."
School security today often defaults to the issue of being safe from rampaging shooters. Schaffer said the architects have done a good job of securing the school building, and since that is wherxe the students will be most of the time, it is the right emphasis, rather than putting fences around the school.
More likely would be mentally unstable crossing the campus and hanging around the teenagers.
"We live with that every day in the neighborhood. Our kids know what it's like to live in a city. We have needles thrown in our yard, we have homeless people walking around, some are benign, some are threatening. So we know what he potential problems are."
He feels getting rid of alleys and blind corners, and instead having a wide-open campus, would keep threatening people away.
"The best way to protect them is to have eyes on the ground."