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The plan to save school a popular one

by: Shasta Kearns Moore, Fourth-grader Sabine Pigg plays with her friend during recess at Rieke Elementary School in Hillsdale. The school has been slated for reconstruction as part of Portland Public Schools’ long-range facilities plan.

HILLSDALE - Portland Public Schools officials have been singing a different tune lately to Rieke Elementary School parents and staff about the types of changes needed at Hillsdale's K-5 school.

From threats three years ago to shut the school down, PPS is now offering to replace the 1950s school and build them a brand-new $16.8 million facility.

Principal Charlene Russell and PTA President Michael Reunert say they like the sound of that.

The school district's proposal is tied to a bond measure that voters would have to approve in November in order to take care of a backlog of, according to one estimate, about $1 billion in maintenance and construction issues at nearly every PPS elementary and middle school.

The 20-year plan has yet to be prioritized, so although the district says it would be more cost-effective to replace Rieke than renovate, there is no indication of how quickly that would happen. Nine other schools around Portland are slated to be replaced and nearly every school in the district requires major renovations, according to an analysis by Magellan Consulting.

District officials point out that the majority of schools in Portland were built in two waves: one around the 1920s when widespread use of bricks prevented the schoolhouses from burning down, and again around the 1950s when the baby boom required cheap, boxy schools to be built quickly.

The time has come for another wave of school construction to last the next 50 years, they argue.

Russell stressed that timeframe, saying that Rieke is fully functional, aside from some maintenance issues, but the real focus is on whether or not the school will last long enough for the current students' children to attend.

The answer, she said, is no.

'You have to think of the child that will be born in 2015 and die in 2085,' she said, adding: 'Rieke is growing, and we need additional space.'

Reunert, who is the marketing mind behind Rieke's jump in attendance, said the school is outgrowing its space. Attendance at Rieke has grown from 268 three years ago to a projected 340 students next year. A second portable will need to be added soon to accommodate a new class of kindergarteners.

'This is a long-term investment in the community,' Reunert said.

He envisions a new school providing community space as well, which would further encourage prospective to think of Rieke as a welcoming, neighborhood school.

'What we'd like to have is spaces for things other than plain old instruction,' he said. 'I really liked that idea of flexibility.'

Russell said the school, right in the middle of the Hillsdale Town Center, would be a great place for the district to invest, with a growing community of people who want to be able to walk to schools, vendors and other destinations.

'I can't think of a better place to put a new state-of-the-art building . . . to support learning than in the middle of Hillsdale,' Russell said.