North Elementary grad designs new school
Renee Alexander fondly remembers Mrs. Peccia, her fourth grade teacher at North Gresham Elementary School, as "very strict, but loving and caring."
She recalls hanging out in the cafeteria like it was yesterday. "I remember getting awards on that stage. I remember them bringing in television sets so we could watch a moon landing," she said.
Alexander, known back then as Kroupa, went on to Dexter McCarty Middle School and Gresham High School, where a teacher suggested she consider a career in architecture because of her love of design and talent in math.
Alexander did just that and went on to University of Oregon for her degree in architecture. She is now a principal in charge at BBT Architects Inc. in Bend, a firm that specializes in designing schools.
Her many memories of her grade school years at North prompted Alexander to jump at the chance to design the new building that will replace the 58-year-old, well-used school at 1001 S.E. 217th Ave.
"I grew up in the district. I wanted to give back to the district," she said.
Alexander and her team are designing a school that will be starkly different from the one she attended decades earlier. The new, $30.3 million North Gresham Elementary will be two stories instead of one — at 77,200 square feet, much larger than the old 54,624 square-foot-building. It is designed to educate 550 students.
The new school is part of a building boomlet in the Gresham-Barlow School District funded by a $291.2 million bond voters passed in November 2016. With that money, Gresham and Barlow high schools will get major overhauls, and East and North Gresham elementary schools will be replaced. Hall and Hollydale elementary schools will get some new classrooms. All district schools are getting security and other upgrades.
Reaching for the stars
Students will continue to attend class in the old North Gresham Elementary School as the new school is built on the existing baseball fields and grounds. Construction on the new North will start at the end of the 2017-18 school year in May and should be completed in August 2019.
Once the new building is done, the old school will be demolished by that summer to make way for new parking lots and athletics fields.
The entrance for the new North actually faces south and will feature big canopies to protect folks from the elements and create a dramatic entrance. The architects were careful to situate the building to protect the entry, outdoor gathering spaces and play areas from the neighborhood's strong East Wind.
The architects were also mindful to place the school to maximize views of Mount Hood and other striking scenery. The second floor east classrooms, media center (library) and teacher break rooms will provide views of the mountain. The strip of classrooms along the north side will have views of Mount St. Helens to the northwest and Mount Adams to the northeast.
The designers are planning to salvage some elements of the old school to incorporate into the new building's design as a nod of respect to the past. To honor school's North Stars mascot, the architects plan to sprinkle stars throughout the design of the building.
"There will be a starlit ceiling in the library," Alexander said, adding the theme won't be overdone. "It will be subtle, not like cake decorating."Unique, special spaces
Alexander and her team, including project architect Matthew Guthrie, created a flow through the building that reflects the students' educational path through the school. The kindergarten classrooms that begin the journey are positioned front and center near the building's entrance. The arc ends with the fifth-grade classroom at the northernmost point on the second floor. Special education classrooms are located in the central part of the classroom area so students can move freely into other classrooms and parts of the school.
Each grade level classroom cluster has an adjacent activity center — spaces where students can work together on a project, for tutoring or other uses. The architects indicated these areas will "foster grade-level identity and pride."
The entire building is designed to be flooded with natural light. The new gym is bigger than the old and will have a wood floor and include three-tier bleachers.
Located at the nexus of the community and classroom wings of the building, the library/media center accommodates the new digital mode of libraries now and in the future.
The old cafeteria was a dingy, windowless space. In the new school, "the cafeteria was acknowledged as a hub of activity for the building," said a report by the architects. It will also be a focal point from the street, school entry and community fields.
All the community areas will be built to a higher code so they can serve as shelters in case of a natural disaster. That boosted the cost of the building, but district officials said they thought it was a good investment for the community.
There is a different entrance for public events near the cafeteria and gym. The academic areas of the school can be closed off and the community areas left open for meetings, performances and other sorts of gatherings.
The designers are also working to make vehicle traffic flow safer and more efficient. Parking will jump from about 20 spaces to 90 spots.
Alexander said she's hopeful her team's design will fit with the project's vision statement, crafted by the North Gresham Elementary community, to create "a beautiful, inviting and safe school that supports learning and includes unique, special spaces that invoke a sense of pride."
What do the kids want?
The design team for North Gresham Elementary School asked the students what features they would like to see in their new school.
Celina asked for "a softer gym floor." A boy named Quinten thought "a glass elevator" would be a good idea.
Lily wanted an art room and Daniel thought "an upstairs" would be cool.
Kayla was very specific. "I think you should build a seat in front of the window so we can read with natural sunlight. I would like if it could be comfy and with a back rest."
Not all the student ideas made it into the design, but several have been incorporated. Kayla is getting her book nook.