Update on Washington High School – Proposed Community Center

Last week, Bosco-Milligan Foundation Board Vice President Fred Leeson attended the latest meeting of the Washington High School Community Center Citizen’s Advisory Committee.  Here is his take on the latest events surrounding this important Buckman Neighborhood landmark:

A month ago, preservationists’ hopes rose when they heard that an
unidentified developer with strong preservation credentials was interested
in buying the old Washington High School, converting most of the building to housing and allowing Portland Parks & Rec to lease some or all of the ground floor as part of a a new Southeast Portland Community Center.
By comparison, an earlier plan calling for three stories would have been more expensive to build and would have blocked more views to and from the old high school, whatever its eventual use turns out to be.

Schultz said he has not met yet with the unnamed developer, and does not
know details about what the developer has in mind for Washington.  Susan
Lindsay, chair of the advisory committee, said the developer told her he is
looking at building 45 to 50 housing units, and plans to keep the
second-floor auditorium intact, along with many of the existing hallways and public spaces.  Lindsay said the developer would like to find a use for the auditorium that does not attract large numbers of cars to Buckman’s crowded streets; she said rehearsal space for performance groups is one idea.

Just a few weeks later, progress seems to be being made at a rapid pace.
The developer, still not identified publicly, has met with the Portland
Development Commission to discuss housing options and is exploring all
available historic preservation tax credits.  PPS has commissioned an update of an appraisal on the building, which is supposed to be finished by
middle-January.  The district also plans to issue a “request for
information” to see if any other developers are interested in buying the
long-vacant high school.  Doug Capps, a PPS facilities manager, told an
advisory committee on Tuesday evening (12-1) that an offer on the building
could be submitted to the School board as soon as March or April.

Meanwhile, SERA Architects of Portland is working with Parks and the
citizens committee on tentative plans for the community center.  At this
point, SERA is suggesting one version that would include about half the
ground floor of Washington with a new building with pools and a gymn nearby; and a second version that would be a free-standing, all-in-one “fallback” version if the deal with Washington High does not materialize.

The scheme that includes Washington has some obvious benefits.  Schultz
proposes putting meeting rooms, art rooms and “passive” activities in the
old high school, while the new building would have a gym, two pools, locker rooms, administrative space and all other “active” uses, including exercise rooms.  Using the old high school would keep the new building to a single story, which would save construction costs and be more compatible with the neighborhood, Schultz told the advisory committee.  His tentative plan also includes potential for an attractive public plaza between the school and the new community building.

Schultz also recommended that the “fallback” version be limited to a single
tall story by placing fitness rooms in a loft overlooking the gym.  The
advisory committee members liked the lower profile of both options, but
clearly preferred the idea of using the ground floor of the old high school,
if possible.

Overall, “The news is good,” Lindsay said.  “There haven’t been any major
roadblocks so far.”

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2 Comments

Filed under Historic Preservation, Schools

2 responses to “Update on Washington High School – Proposed Community Center

  1. Scott Tice

    I think the site would be an excellent investment for McMenamin’s growing empire. The field could be paved for a parking lot (with landscaping). The 2nd floor auditorium could become a theatre pub. This would be the second our their property’s to be located in the Portland city limits, but the first to be so close to downtown.

  2. Liz Brown

    I believe that the community surroundings of Washington High are in dire need of a homeless shelter. Oregon is in the top ten for states with highest homeless population. A building this size could house some many Oregonians forced into homelessness because of the economy.

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