The sun did not show up on cue when hundreds of visitors flooded into the new Parkrose Middle School at its grand opening Sept. 27.
However, despite the cloudy day, the school’s ecofriendly features were illuminated and on full display.
What rays there were warmed the new solar panels lining the roof of the gym, poured through spacious windows and skylights, and spilled light across the glass-walled technology lab, bouncing off iPads and Apple television sets.
Eighth grader Sarah Mua’s favorite thing about the new school is the light. “All the windows in the classroom are like this,” Mua said while raising her arms and looking around. “And then in the Media Center, there’s no lights, just the sunlight.”
She was not alone in her admiration. The more than one hundred visitors and dignitaries who attended the new school’s dedication were universally impressed. “What a beautiful, state of the art school,” said an alumni who was at the opening. “Airy and open with lots of windows and wide staircases. I’m happy to see designers created a link to the past with the rose sculptures created from the old gym floor and reused the old hall lockers.” She added, “I also like that Parkrose emblazoned on the gym bleachers mirrors the bleachers in the high school gym. For me, these little touches connect this new shiny building to the long history of our community.”
Setting a Portland record for more days over 90 degrees this summer, yet absent at the opening, all summer construction workers labored under the sun’s gaze, working overtime to complete the $43-million structure in time for school to open in September.
Money to build the school arrived as part of a $63-million bond measure passed by Parkrose residents in May 2011. This year, that bond will cost the average taxpayer $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed value. The remainder of bond money was used to renovate five elementary schools and the district administration building. “I think that passing the initial construction bond was the most emotional time for me in my career as a superintendent,” said Parkrose School District superintendent Karen Fischer Gray. “It has allowed us to remodel and build something in every single school, plus build a state-of-the-art, forward-thinking, technologically advanced LEED Gold School for the sake of our deserving children and families.” She was relieved when the measure passed after a re-count, albeit by only six votes.
“This is what six votes looks like,” former board of education member Adair Fernee said on Facebook after the tour. “What a beautiful new school for our Parkrose Middle School students.” Fernee and her two children canvassed for the bond. “Next year they both get to go there,” she said. “They helped build their own school; how cool is that?”
The new 140,000-square-foot school was built in the shadow of the old school, which was only 114,000 square feet and plagued with asbestos problems. Workers built the new school while housing some students in portables as they demolished a wing of the old school. In May 2013, workers broke ground; the new school’s athletic fields and landscaping will be completed by June 2015. The new school currently has 800 students enrolled and has a capacity to hold 1,000.
Gray said she is most pleased with “the super clean, professional, yet welcoming feel of the school. I am proud of how gorgeous it is and how much technology it has. I am proud of the feeling the school is giving the staff and the kids and the community—a true sense of Parkrose pride.”
The school will soon by applying for that LEED Gold certification once construction details are complete. That involves including many green features in the building, according to Dan Hess, project manager from Dull Olson Weekes-IBI Group Architects, the firm that designed the new school as well as the five other schools renovated in the district.
Some of those features include photovoltaic panels on the roof of the gym. Such solar panels use sunlight to generate electricity for the building. “They save time and energy,” Hess said. “It basically cuts down the electricity that the school district has to pay for.”
In addition, the classrooms use natural lighting without the need for artificial bulbs. Skylights and large exterior windows in classrooms accomplish this. “Probably over 90 percent of the spaces in the building can be used during the day with little or no artificial light,” Hess said.
The exterior of the two-story, light tan and brown building is constructed mostly of brick and metal panels in a contemporary design. “The idea was to design a building that was complementary to the high school building,” he said. The two buildings, across the street from each other, come together “to feel like a campus,” he said.
The wood used in the building, mainly for doors and trim, was from sustainably harvested forests.
The parking lot contains 267 regular and 16 disabled spaces. The 115,000-square-foot learning area includes 20 seminars, or classrooms and offices.
The design itself blossomed from community input. In November of 2011, Hess and his team of architects started meeting with parents, middle school teachers and administrators to toss ideas into the design stew. Those ideas were then shared in community forums to receive the public‘s input.
“What I’m most proud of is I feel the community designed this building,” Hess said. “I feel that the building represents the values of the community.”
Some of those values include the green features, an emphasis on education, practical ways to maintain the building over the years and a cost-effective construction process.
“Those were the things that the district wanted and the community wanted and that they brought up over and over again,” Hess said.
For instance, the community group decided on polished concrete for many of the floors on the first-floor hallways.
“It’s very attractive looking, but it’s also something that’s easy to clean and will last for 50 years,” Hess said. “It’s low maintenance and durable for a long, long time.”
The architects, working along with engineering consultants, finished the design in February 2013. At that point, Todd Construction Company began work on the building, completing it this September.
During the whole construction process, the architects stayed involved, attending weekly meetings with the contractor and the school district. They discussed the progress of the project and worked together to solve any construction problems.
“At this point, everything has gone smoothly,” Hess said. “The building is opening on schedule.” In fact, the contractor is finishing his site work ahead of schedule.
A big challenge for the architects was the logistics of designing a school on a site where the old school still stood, with children inside studying, making a large part of the site unavailable.
The construction company devised a “construction safety plan,” which was approved by the district and the city council. One aspect of the plan was setting up portables for students during the 2013-2014 school year because one of the old classroom wings was demolished in the summer of 2013.
The new building will be ripe with the fruits of advanced technology, including two media labs, with iPads available for all 6th through 8th graders, a test lab, a wireless system, Apple televisions, projectors, voice amplifications systems and document cameras.
The placement of that technology lab “is probably one of the most inspirational things about the project,” Hess said. “When you walk through the front door and enter the school, what you see on the right are students in the technology lab and on the left you see students in an art classroom. It’s inspirational to see that happening. You see kids learning, and that’s really great. It’s a functional school, and the school district was interested in making education visible.”
A new 8,000-square-foot main gym was built, along with a 5,800-square-foot auxiliary gym. A new baseball and softball field was built across the street at the high school, which can be used by both middle and high school students. The main Parkrose high school gym is 19,000 square feet, with an auxiliary gym that is 11,700 square feet.
In honor of the school’s rebirth, the staff and district decided to change the name of the school’s mascot. Therefore, the Parkrose Middle School Pacers became the Parkrose Middle School Chargers this fall.
“We wanted to stay with the equine icon but punched it up so we picked the kind of horse that was a champion, powerful and electric,” Gray said.
However, despite the state-of-the-art gym, there are no organized sports at the new school.
The district does not anticipate reinstating athletics at the school, which would cost $50,000, but did add back choir.
“We still have many athletic programs at the middle school and we have intramural sports,” Gray said. “We participate in Parkrose football and Parks and Rec sports. We are very happy to add back choir and we hope to continue to rebuild our staffing at every school.”
Russ Kaufman, project manager with Todd Construction Company, said his work crews had finished enough of the inside of the building for the school to open for classes on September 2. However, workers continued to work outside the building throughout September, paving a new track, irrigating a football field inside the track, and landscaping the site.
Some of the requirements for LEED certification involve the construction work.
“We submit all our records of how much material went into recycling our waste,” Kaufman said. “Our goal is to recycle 95 percent of all waste generated on the project. We’re right on track to do that. We have been up to now.”
Those materials include any metal, plastics, cardboard, wood or other waste materials from the project. Sorted into bins, those items are tracked by an independent recycling vendor.
In addition, an independent, third-party firm is performing a final verification that all the mechanical and electrical equipment is working properly. After all the paperwork is submitted to the Green Building council, the district will not learn if it received the LEED gold certification until the end of the school year or longer, Kaufman said.
Construction crews had a little over a year to build the new school next to where the old school still stood.“That’s a pretty short time frame to complete the amount of work we had,” said Kaufman. “We were building the new school in the back yard of the old school.”
That proximity led to major safety concerns that led the construction company to create a safety manual, approved by the district and the city council.
Part of the challenge “was keeping the kids separate from our construction site,” he said. “We had a lot of deliveries. Sometimes the only way to get to our building site for certain deliveries was through the old school parking lot, so we had to coordinate very early in the morning before anybody got here for school to keep everything safe.”
Finally, after the school year ended, the district hired a separate construction company to enter the old building and remove the asbestos. After that, Todd Construction demolished the old building. By then, summer was well under way.
“That was a real challenge,” Kaufman said. “We had a lot of people working a lot of overtime hours this summer.”
Because workers located the new school’s parking lot over the old school site, they needed to finish before school started. “So it was a busy summer,” he said.
For the last five months of construction, the company was forced to hire night security guards because people tried to break in the building to steal tools and other equipment.
The company required every employee to wear an identification badge that designated he was allowed to be on site. It was especially important after classes started as more than 40 construction workers were around the site.
Because the school is next to residential areas, Kaufman and his crews sometimes distributed fliers to neighbors, letting them know that certain events might occur, such as early morning work projects occurring before standard work hours.
Over the months, they received a few complaints from neighbors, often expressed through emails or phone calls to the company or the district. “Like any project, we did have some neighbors who at various times were upset by certain things,” he admitted. “It‘s a big undertaking to have something like this built in your backyard or your neighbor’s yard. It can be disruptive. Keeping the dust down was always a challenge. We used water trucks constantly, spraying water onto any dirt areas, trying to keep the dust down.”
Gray admitted neighbors complained about both the noise and dust. “But now we are done building,” she said. “We are finishing the landscaping now, which will cause more dust for awhile given the current weather conditions; but it will end this spring and be done. Our neighbors have been more than supportive of the district, and we are forever grateful.”
As for the students and the community, Gray said, “Everyone loves it.”
Gabe Gothro, a 7th grader at Parkrose Middle School, feels the new building is vastly better than the old one.
“It’s a lot bigger, and it’s more organized and a lot cleaner and more hygienic,” said Gothro.
He is generally a fan of the all-glass walls along one side of each classroom opening into the main hallway, giving students in each classroom a full view of the hallway. “I think it looks cooler, but it might possibly be a distraction because kids pass through the hall, and they might wave to their friends,” he said.
Gothro also likes large open windows everywhere with skylights opening up the ceiling in some rooms. “It’s pretty good,” he said. “There’s windows everywhere, so there’s just light pouring into everything, a lot of natural light.”
Another feature he likes is the student-friendly wings of the building, each wing marked as A or B, with corresponding numbers. “So we don’t get lost,” he said, adding that the old building just had numbers on the doors, without such clear organization.
He likes that all the rooms now have air conditioners, unlike the old building, which contained only a few.
The whole building is more spacious, with a special area just for lockers, instead of the old building’s location of them next to each room. He added that the facility as a whole is “really clean and really nice and shiny.”
His mother, Kari Gothro, volunteered on the committee to get the bond measure passed to build the new school, calling people and going door to door to get out the vote. “The old school was seriously dilapidated, had asbestos issues,” Kari Gothro said. “The students were really in need of a new, improved, better school for a better learning opportunity.”
She drove by the construction site each week last summer, marveling at each phase of the demolition and construction process. “It was really exciting to see how they systematically took down the old school and got the new school up and ready to start on time,” she said. “So that was a huge undertaking and kudos to the construction company.”
Ben McKee, another eighth grader at the school, especially likes the expanded playground at the back of the new school. “I really like the recess area,” McKee said. “There’s tether ball. At the old school, you didn’t have tetherball, so that’s really fun. And there’s some trees and a bike area and a grass area and a path.”
He said the old school offered only a basketball hoop and “just a hill. That was pretty much it.”
McKee also enjoys the view from windows in many of the classrooms, providing a clear view of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Washington state and Rossi Farms.
He disliked the old school’s lack of windows, especially in the gym. “In some classrooms, there weren’t very many windows and the windows were pretty small,” he said.
During a tour last May, his mother, Sarah McKee, especially liked the design of the school, where children could be gathered into small groups. “They had clear conference rooms,” she said. “It’s visible. Everyone can see into it, but it’s still a private space.”
She noted that such rooms could be used for meetings with parents or teachers as well as for small group or one-on-one instruction. “I think they were really thoughtful in the design,” she said. “There just never seems to be enough meeting space for those other things besides regular class instruction.”
Austin Dong, another eighth grader at the school, also liked the spaciousness and improved design of the room layout.
“It’s just more organized than it was before,” he said. “The way it was before, there were just classrooms everywhere.”
Dong also likes the new choir room. “We didn’t have choir before; we just had band,” he said. He has not been in the new technology lab yet, “but it looks cool from the outside. He also likes that the lockers are now located near each classroom. In the old school, “they were all spread out in every hallway.”
He did not like that in the old school “when the doors opened for school, all the hallways were like packed and you couldn’t really move or do anything. Now they have two entrances but they are farther apart than they were before, so now it’s a little bit more spread out.”
His mother, Mary Dong, said, “I’m excited for the kids. It is a new start. I’m excited that Austin gets to experience it at the first year. I’m sure it’s invigorating for the new teachers and staff to be in the new school.”
Andrea Stevenson, assistant to the superintendent of the district, said the community is encouraged to use the new building for various events. “But we can’t rent our facilities for free,” Stevenson said. “At a minimum, we must collect custodial fees to pay for after-hours opening and closing of the building.”
Facility rental information is available on the district’s website at: http://hs.parkrose.k12.or.us/Parkrose-Facilities/Facilities-Information.html.