nnnn Jefferson 59 Portland, Oregon, Jeff High School Class of '59, Reunion Info

Jefferson High School, Portland, Oregon

Jefferson High School
Jefferson neighborhood

Jefferson High School News

Jeff renovation:

S U N D A Y, D E C E M B E R 4 , 2 0 2 2 T H E O R E G O N I A N

Julia Silverman The Oregonian/OregonLive

For two years, students, parents, educators and neighbors have mulled plans to renovate North Portland’s Jefferson High School, which serves the state’s highest concentration of Black high schoolers. Now, the final proposal for the extensive renovations, slated to begin in 2024, is coming into focus — but how much it will cost is still a big question mark, especially given Portland Public Schools’ history of higher-than-predicted final costs on previous school modernization projects.

On Dec. 13, the school board will vote on a recommendation to completely renovate Jefferson’s existing building, which was built in 1909. A full teardown and rebuild had been under consideration for the high school, à la the new Lincoln High School in Southwest Portland, which opened this fall at a cost of about $245 million, nearly $60 million more than the original estimate. But community feedback ran strongly in favor of preserving the historic building, a team from Bora and Lever, the architecture firms working on the project, told a school board subcommittee on operations and facilities earlier this week.

The building has remained a landmark in the Black community even as the neighborhood around the school has gentrified, pricing out many Black families who have moved east of 82nd Avenue, said Chandra Robinson, an architect with Lever.

“There’s been a recognition that the neighborhood has changed, it will continue to change. But the fact is that the overall form of the original 1909 building and the placement of buildings on the campus is what people understand to be part of the community,” Robinson said. “It was important for community members to be able to save something they had a memory of, and pass that to future generations and imagine people coming back to the neighborhood.”

Enrollment in the district has been declining among elementary and middle schoolers, including those who would attend the newly completed Jefferson in 2028. That’s a trend driven by declining birth rates and rising home prices that began prior to COVID-19. That drop was then exacerbated by the pandemic, when some fami- lies moved, went to private school or started home-schooling during the district’s year- long building closure. PPS lost about 4,200 students between fall 2019 and fall 2021, enough to fill three large high schools. When it reopens in 2028, Jefferson would have more than 200,000 square feet of usable space, which Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero noted this week will be “the most available square footage of any of our comprehensive high schools, (with) at least as of today, the smallest enrollment.”

The new Jefferson will have space for 1,700 students, the same as the district’s seven comprehensive high schools. But Jefferson is a magnet school that features a college-going culture and partnership with neighboring Portland Community College; students attend it only by choice, not by neighborhood assignment. Students who live in the surrounding neighborhoods are offered the chance to enroll at either Jefferson or one of three other high schools: McDaniel, Grant or Roosevelt. Currently, only about 600 are enrolled at Jefferson. Prior to its reopening, the board and district have suggested there will be a reconsideration of those dual assignment enrollment boundaries. And they have also said they plan to reserve spots at the school for the children of Jefferson’s strong contingent of Black and other alumni, even those who no longer live in the district. That’s similar to an attendance-via-petition program available at Boise-Eliot elementary school, another school with deep ties to the Black community that sits in a gentrifying neighborhood. Jefferson will be the seventh of the district’s high schools to undergo renovations or a rebuild when construction begins in 2024. It’s expected to open in fall 2028, and students will remain onsite during the construction period. Cleveland High School, in Southeast Portland, and Ida B. Wells, in Southwest Portland, are the remaining schools that have yet to be refurbished. Plans call for a handful of new spaces, including a central courtyard, new gym facilities, a media center, and a performing arts wing, with a new theater and multiple dance studios. The school is home to the Jefferson Dancers, an elite troupe that draws students from across the city. The school’s well-loved blue track, a touchstone for neighbors, some of whom helped fundraise for its original construction, will remain intact. Construction costs for Jefferson will be covered by the district’s $1.2 billion bond, approved by voters in 2020, when the cost of the project then was estimated at $311 million. The actual cost will be higher, given a huge jump in inflation-related con- struction costs over the last two years, Bora and LEVER architects say. The 2020 bond included $93 million set aside for potential cost escalation, which district officials say they can tap for Jefferson. The project’s architects say they will unveil an updated cost estimate when the full school board meets in mid-December.

Meanwhile, plans to relocate Harriet Tubman Middle School, another school with historic ties to Portland’s Black community, remain up in the air. The school is adjacent to Interstate 5, raising serious health concerns over air quality and in 2021, the Legislature set aside $120 million for a new middle school at a location yet to be determined. There had been talk of relocating Tubman to the Jefferson campus, but that’s essentially off the table now because of space constraints, according to school board member Julia Brim Edwards.

One option is to co-locate it with Kairos charter school, which also serves a predominately Black student body and operates in the former Humboldt Elementary School, whose front door is a quarter-mile walk from Jefferson. That building has room for 510 students, an independent building assessment conducted in 2020 concluded, so it might need to be expanded to accommodate Tubman. Kairos currently enrolls 216 students, while Tubman has 379.

District leaders say they hope to have landed on a firm location for Tubman by April and have it open by 2027, if all goes well. In the meantime, Tubman students would attend a so-called “swing site” school, potentially in the former Kenton Elementary School, which is four miles from the Tubman campus