The typical excitement and stress of the first day of school was heightened for Grant High School students this year as they returned to their newly remodeled building: an experience Franklin upperclassmen can relate to. The newly renovated 300,000 square foot structure stands at the intersection of NE 36th and Thompson. Like Franklin, it represents a combination of historic features and new improvements. The columns standing at the front of the school have been preserved, as well as many of the windows and wooden staircase banisters. One of the most prominent changes is that the main building is connected on all three floors with one separate arts building housed in the historic gym. Prior to the renovation, there were seven different structures on campus, including several portables with no facilities inside. Within the consolidated main building, students now have access to common areas and private conference spaces where they can work on individual or group projects. Grant is now the first school in the district to have all gender neutral bathrooms, with private stalls and a shared sink area.
The building is now compliant with seismic safety standards, has improved water quality, and is more wheelchair accessible. “The old building had a number of issues in terms of wheelchair accessibility—for example, to get into the auditorium, a student would have to wheel outside, come in a side entrance, and ride an elevator,” explains Scott Bailey, who serves on the PPS School Board and was a part of Grant’s Design Advisory Group. “Other ADA standards were also addressed. One of the specialized classrooms has individual lights that can be controlled for students who are light-sensitive,” Bailey says.
Although part of the same Modernization Bond passed by taxpayers in 2012, Franklin and Grant’s renovations have been handled by different architectural firms and contractors. Additionally, Grant’s construction cost totaled at 158 million dollars, 45 million dollars more than Franklin’s did. Transitioning back to the improved Franklin building felt chaotic to many students and staff. Upon arrival, the Franklin community began to notice a myriad of issues. The bell system had not been set up, there weren’t enough lockers, and certain spaces such as the library seemed to lack functionality. As students return to Grant, many members of the Franklin community have wondered if Franklin’s issues have served as learning moments for other PPS remodels. The Office of School Modernization at PPS confirms that after Franklin’s project, “we developed a better community engagement process, improved our oversight and accountability efforts and developed better communication between design teams and the contractor. The siting of the location of special education classrooms in Grant was a specific lesson learned.” A major oversight of the Franklin remodel was the placement of special education classrooms. The SPED rooms are tucked away at the very back of the bottom floor Social Studies wing. They are small and have low ceilings, leaving many members of the program feeling segregated and overlooked during the design process.
Students at Grant are excited about many of the new features at their school. Ada Swartley, who spent her freshman year at the old building, says her favorite thing is the library. “I like the library, it’s really nice, it’s so big and they have a lot of couches. It definitely has improved from old Grant. I love that area.” Other commonly mentioned improvements are the amount of natural light present inside the classrooms as well as the openness of the space. “The only thing that I would really say isn’t working is the overpopulation. There’s so many people, it’s really hard to navigate,” states Ruby Paustian, Grant’s student body president. Similarly to Franklin, students at Grant have already noticed an issue with limited space and too many students. Ada Swartley describes the situation in her overcrowded ceramics class. “We have a lot of kids in that small area, so working close together is kind of difficult. You’re right next to someone which is kind of hard if you’re gonna be making ceramics,” she says. Furthermore, some have brought up the issue of the building lacking charm and feeling “cold.” Lucy Hayes, a senior and Editor-In-Chief of the school’s magazine feels that, “old Grant had a really homey vibe. And the new Grant is really nice, and I’m really appreciative that we’ve gotten this new school but it is all white and black and our school color [is] blue. There’s no blue, we can’t hang anything on the walls and it feels a little impersonal. With the concrete floors [it feels] a little sterile.” With new Franklin entering its 3rd year, decorations are finally beginning to fill the walls. However, there were similar concerns about the impersonal, blank feeling of the campus, especially with many of the walls being completely white. Ella Shanahan, a senior at Grant, is optimistic about spending her final year in the new building despite its bareness, stating, “once we get used to it, it’ll feel more like our place.”
For members of the district, meeting everyone’s needs for a new school can be really tricky. “The reality is that we have to make choices based on the money, time and space that we have available. There is always the challenge of accommodating all of the educational requirements. The Bond project teams work very closely with the school and district staff throughout the design process so they help us make the best choices possible,” states the School Modernization Office. Despite construction being over, Grant and district staff are still working on ways they can improve the school and help students feel like it truly is their “place,” as Ella Shanahan describes it. According to Scott Bailey, “The District is in a planning process with the City of Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau to site a softball field in the Grant Bowl… Also, our Native American students are beginning a dialogue with the Grant Alumni Association about what to do with some historic murals in the auditorium that inaccurately portray Native Americans.” Overall, the re-introduction to the 36th Avenue campus seems to be going well. A poll conducted by Grant Magazine found that 83 percent of students surveyed prefer the newly remodeled building to the original. Families and alumni have been responding positively and most issues that have arisen are continuing to be examined. Overall, the community is optimistic about the year to come.