Lincoln High School design passes final city hurdle
The design for the Lincoln High School replacement was finally approved on Aug. 1.
Chris Linn, Principal at Bora Architects, was applauded by his dozen-strong team as he left the building and walked toward them on Southwest Fourth Avenue outside the Bureau of Development Service Center.
"This was a little beyond normal," Linn told the Business Tribune of the design review process for this particular project. The school is in the central city and the Goose Hollow neighborhood.
"For the central city, this is a very large and complicated project. The piece of property is the equivalent of seven or eight city blocks and we're used to seeing projects that are a quarter block to a half block. Just the scale, the scope, the complexity, took a little bit of extra effort on our part, to get across the finish line."
Groundbreaking will happen in February 2020, when the existing athletic track is torn up and the new six-story, 102-foot-tall building will be built at the west end of the site. When that opens in fall 2022, the old school will be demolished and a new track, grandstand and teen/parent childcare facility will be built, which will be ready in fall 2023.
Linn mentioned the topography of the site — it is a rectangle that slopes 30 feet from opposite corner to corner — and restrictions such as sewers and water lines underneath where 16th and 17th avenues would be. The location of the water lines meant that nothing heavy could be built on them, only the athletic field.
"Making that all fit was a real challenge," Linn said. "Of the overall design it's gotten simpler. The expression of the stairs is much stronger now."
They also overcame the desire by many to see a brick school, which is so traditional. Instead they used a brick-colored concrete panel for the building's skin, which is thinner and lighter, varies in texture and doesn't look depressing in the rain.
They also changed the drop-off point from the original idea, on 18th Avenue and Salmon, to closer to 17th Avenue. Instead of backing up on a busy street with the MAX line, parents can drop their kids off at a pull-in space.
"It's a much more sensible thing to do. Move the entry to the corner of 17th and Salmon so that there's queuing space and they'll keep the intersection open."
At the meeting Bora and the landscape architect Mayer/Reed presented updates on various features. For example, the heritage tree at 15th and Salmon, known for the large green chestnuts it drops during football season, not only will be preserved but surrounded by nurse logs. These will be educational and may grow other big trees in the future.
The design commission focused on the ground-level uses and the active site edges. It wanted the school to be lively and interesting to the public, even if they are not allowed to just wander in.
So, at street level on the northwest corner, where the tall part of the school will be, there will be large windows showing the performing arts space, maker spaces and the library.
Speaking to the commission, Linn thanked "a diverse group of stakeholders," including residents of Goose Hollow, PPS, students and staff. They had "a very significant voice in the design" through more than 20 public meetings, workshops and open houses. And the team had met with PPS office of school monetization and Hoffman Construction more than 100 times in the past year.
He said that Goose Hollow neighbors are "also really focused on connectivity through the site and trying to tie their neighborhood back together."
Bora has tried to come up with a design that "balances the need for security, and safety and confidentiality in the actual function of the educational programming," Linn said. "So, meeting these really complex and contradictory needs has been our greatest design challenge."
"The campus itself has a network of entries, walkways, overlooks, plazas that really helped tie the neighborhood back together, create great access, and provide great public amenities."
Internally there will be four big stairways with lots of glass and good views, which the architects think teenagers will enjoy being seen on, and will help move 1,700 kids up and down without them all trying to use the elevator. The stairs will be "visible, sculptural, highly transparent, really kinetic, and there'll be movement up and down through the building all day long." In the evening the tower will light up and be a beacon for the neighborhood. This was deemed important because this is not a school on a large campus that is several minutes walk from the road and surrounded by sports fields. It backs right up against Southwest 18th Avenue.
Bora wants the school design to be cohesive, to reflect the permanence of the institution and have a "sense of gravitas."
Like Franklin and Wilson, there should be a "sense of simplicity and modesty along with carefully considered moments of youthful energy."
Linn joked that last time, one commissioner had asked Bora to make the northwest corner "more spicy."
"That term's not in the design guidelines," said Linn, "but we know what you mean." So, they made the corner more sculptural, transparent and interesting, where the corner dissolves and becomes all glass.
"We'll call it medium-hot spicy, as opposed to mouth-on-fire spicy," said Linn.
They considered putting a screen around the mechanical on the sixth-floor roof, but since the only place they could really be seen was from the Vista Avenue Bridge, they thought better of it and saved the money.
The ground floor is considered the coming together of the whole design. The ground floor of the tower will have a commons, a sort of lounge and cafeteria area. Outside is the plaza, which has the 17th Avenue easement, where cars can turn around and firetrucks can park.
Staff will park under the grandstand, which won't be as grand as Franklin's. There are areas for a small practice field and concessions, since much of school fundraising revolves around selling snacks and merch to sports spectators.
On the highest piece of land, in the southeast corner, they are taking the long view and planting a giant sequoia.
One thing Mayer/Reed recently added is a row of smooth, oversized "pebbles" made of precast concrete, to keep bikers and pedestrians safe on the south side. They look like the sort of rocks ODOT uses to deter homeless people from camping near freeway ramps in flower beds, but these can be sat upon for watching the games.
"They're an interesting edge, and they're helping us tell the story of Tanner Creek," said Carol Mayer-Reed of Mayer/Reed.
Part of the watershed of Tanner Creek runs below the school. So, consistent with design guidelines, the architecture must refer to it, in however subtle a way. Markings in the concrete pavers will also refer to plant and river life. Steel drains and textured paving will be laid down in a wavy pattern to evoke the creek and the gardens.
Jason Trombley, who recently served as the chair of the design advisory group at Lincoln High School, spoke in support of the project. He said that like the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and the dental school on the South Waterfront, which also have corner staircases viewable from the street, "One of our core values for our new building was to provide an active healthy campus. As a person who has coached at Lincoln for now to 14 years I can say from firsthand knowledge that these are spaces that are used from 7 a.m. all the way to 10 p.m. or later depending on the scheduling event. These will be active spaces that engage all who walk, drive or commute by the building."
Trombley added that the arrangement of the common spaces reduces the amount of the campus that requires staff or chaperones, which is good from a school management perspective.
And having one big entrance at 17th and Salmon reduces the confusion of where to go.
"It is intentionally designed to be more accessible than the existing campus while balancing the safety and security needs of the community, which will interact with the campus. As Portland grows and newly adopted state laws and investments related to housing, including affordable and middle missing, missing middle housing come online, this replacement is in a better position to welcome all communities for future generations."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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