Separate building proposed for Benson High campus
Portland Public Schools will likely construct a new stand-alone building on the Benson High School campus at a cost of about $36 million, to house some special high school programs that now share space at Benson.
In addition, the PPS staff recommended to the school board that all the Benson campus students be moved off campus during a planned remodel of Benson, a change from the plan the board adopted in December.
Yvonne Curtis, deputy superintendent for instruction and school communities, called the proposals "a win-win."
Benson is a specialized high school that draws students from all over Oregon's largest school district. It offers extensive career and technical education options including automotive, manufacturing and health occupations.
The Benson building also currently houses a mix of different programs designed for teen parents, students who have left school and kids who did not thrive in comprehensive high schools.
Building the new, separate building for these so-called "multiple pathways to graduation" programs is
contingent on Portland district voters approving the third in a series of bond measures for construction in 2020. The renovation of Benson had been slotted from the $790 million bond voters passed in 2017, but the district has faced cost overruns in other projects funded from that measure.
The remodeled Benson will hold about 1,700 students, plus about 200 from the other programs, for a total of 1,900 students on the "new" Benson campus.
Adding the new stand-alone building would bring the cost of the Benson campus project to between $315.5 and $332 million, the staff told the school board. The earlier plan had an estimated cost of $296 million.
If the school is remodeled, Benson students and students from Pioneer High School, located in the Benson building, will attend school at the shuttered Marshall High School, on Southeast 91st Avenue near Eastport Plaza, during the planned three years of the Benson remodel. The Marshall move would allow Benson's career training focus to continue. Marshall has been home to Franklin and Grant high school students during recent upgrades of those schools.
During the proposed Benson renovation, students in the "multiple pathways" programs – alternative school Alliance High School, the district Reconnection Center, the DART/Clinton School and Teen Parent Services – would move to the former Kenton Elementary School in North Portland, the PPS staff recommended to the school board.
Both Marshall and Kenton will require some sprucing up to accommodate the Benson and special program students.
The staff recommended to the school board at a Tuesday, Feb. 19 meeting that the district build a dedicated, stand-alone building of 33,000 to 41,000 square feet for the so-called multiple pathways programs at "very preliminary" cost estimate of between $24 million and $36 million.
It will include a large space so the different programs can have gatherings of all students. It also will include "warm spaces to welcome families" and spaces for wraparound services and features such as showers, laundry facilities and a food pantry.
"We strongly believe it will increase attendance, retention and graduation," said Korinna Wolfe, senior director for multiple pathways to graduation.
The staff advised the board to keep Portland International Scholars, Pioneer High School and Portland Evening, Portland Summer and Portland Virtual scholars within the remodeled Benson building.
The school board had multiple questions on the proposal. For example, Director Scott Bailey asked if the "multiple pathways" students would have access to the career and technical education facilities in the main Benson building. The staff said they would address the questions and report back to the board.
The board is tentatively scheduled to vote on this proposal at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26.