Sunday, November 26, 2023

What's Next at Jefferson High School?

Original Jefferson High School main entrance

Architects working on a massive Jefferson High School renovation would like to bring back some of the distinctive architectural elements that once graced the school when its first building opened in 1909.

Tentative plans call for the restoration of a hipped roof over the main entry and suitable embellishment of the three Romanesque arches that mark the main portal.  Designers also considered trying to salvage decorative diamond and circular brick patterns in the original fa├žade, but found that the heavy-duty plaster that buried them during renovation in the 1950s made salvage impossible.

“This is what we really want to do,” Chandra Robinson, a principal of Lever Architecture, told the Historic Landmarks Commission at a recent advisory meeting, referring to the hipped roof and the arches.  The latest iteration also would remove berms that hide some of the lower facade. 

It is not known, however, whether the budget will allow these restorations – or whether the Jefferson community wants them.

Several citizens at an earlier neighborhood meeting said they would be willing to sacrifice the historic building if a new structure could be built without sending students off campus for two years while the overhaul occurs. 

“It’s not a choice we’ve ever been given,” Robinson said of a new building replacing the 1909 structure.    The outcome, she said, ultimately has to be decided by the Portland School Board.  Students at other Portland high schools have been bussed to the old Marshall High building in Southeast Portland while construction occurred.

Today's stripped-down version

Robinson said a final proposed plan for Jefferson likely will be finished early in 2024.  The latest plans call for removal of a gymnasium built in 1928 that sits south of the 1909 building.  While the old gym has some attractive architectural details, it fails to meet for modern needs and stands in the way of plans for a new gym, theater and classrooms that would sit behind the 1909 building and an open plaza.   The current football field and running track would remain in place.

 Members of the Landmarks Commission expressed support for restoring the 1909 building to the extent possible.  “The 1909 building is the kind of structure that we’ll never get back,” said Commissioner Kristen Minor, who is ending an eight-year term on the commission.  “It’s really hard to look at it in its current form.”

 Commissioner Kimberly Moreland said the old building “represents a really unique design for schools of that era.”  Despite the unfortunate design changes made decades ago, the school remains a neighborhood landmark and is a contributing element of the Piedmont Conservation District, where city regulations attempt to protect historic qualities.

 ----Fred Leeson

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