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Private Catholic school completes swish new campus at Northeast Killingsworth and 42nd Ave, right at the buzzer

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - De La Salle North High School the president Oscar Leong (left) tours the new campus with alumni and now Bora architecture designer Nik Tucker, who worked on the design of the new campus. (Masks were removed briefly for photos.)

De La Salle North Catholic High School opened its new campus in September — just in time for the new school year.

Previously, the private school rented a former Portland Public Schools school in North Portland's Kenton district, which didn't even have a gym. The brand-new campus is in a new neighborhood, but students and teachers finally feel like they have a home. Five years ago, this Catholic school was given a deadline to get out of that Kenton building by July 2021. So began the race to find a new home while staying true to its mission to serve North Portland.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - De La Salle North High School the president Oscar Leong in the school's new gym, which was tricked out for a fundraiser that evening. The school, which sends interns to area businesses, raised $26 million in three years for its capital campaign.  (Masks were removed briefly for photos.)

Unlike public schools, which can expand if the voters approve a bond measure and raise property taxes, private schools have to fundraise from parents, alumni and sympathetic businesses. Further complicating things, De La Salle North needed to decide if it could lease, remodel or build a school building from scratch.

The school looked at 40 to 50 locations, according to the president Oscar Leong, who arrived three years ago. Leong is like the school's CEO, differentiating him from the principal.

"There were conversations about the school needing to move out to Gresham, but the reality was, that was a huge jump. I think leaving the community would have been a really bad moment, and staying true to the roots of why the school was here was super important," Leong told the Business Tribune on a recent tour.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Olivia Howard, a De Las Salle North alumna, makes sure the students get off to their work placements. They work one day a week, and two days a week once a month. (Masks were removed briefly for photos.)

Critical paddle raise

It was the day of the school fundraising auction, with party planners setting the dining tables and hiding the locker rooms behind fabric. There were no students around — they were at their work placements. De La Salle North is unique in that kids spend at least one day a week working at local companies — mostly white-collar, not fast food or manual labor. It's part of their education that they learn the soft skills of professional conduct and explore fields they may come back to after school or college. Businesses such as Nike, Columbia Sportswear, and architects Mahlum and Bora pay the school $31,000 per year for one FTE (full-time employee), which can comprise two or three students who act as interns.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Alumni Nik Tucker is now an architectural engineer at Bora Architecture. He helped make the gym design bold.

The new campus, located at 4300 N.E. Killingsworth Street, was looking sharp. It was built in partnership with the St. Charles Roman Catholic Church next door. The school remodeled the community center, which had a kitchen and gym and felt very 1950s. Bora Architects knocked out the drop ceilings and created a series of light-filled classrooms. These included science labs with enough sinks and benches for group experimental work, art rooms and a religious studies room. The architect took over the parking lot and built a cafeteria/meeting space. Its huge doors open on an outdoor commons where students can get fresh air.

Completing the quadrangle is an impressive gym with a full-size basketball court, bleachers, four practice hoops that swing down from the ceiling — all right next to wireless projectors and two movie screens.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - De La Salle North High School the president Oscar Leong in front of the school motto.

The Knight mascot design on the gym floor was covered up by carpet for that night's sit-down dinner fundraiser. The mascot design largely came from Nik Tucker, whom the school holds up as an example of success. Tucker went to De La Salle North, did his work-study at Bora, got a full-ride scholarship to Columbia University in New York City, came home to work for Bora full time, and helped the firm make its design for the new school more student-friendly.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The De La Salle North High School wall of donors. The big fish are in yellow.

As Leong pointed out, the entrance lobby is different from many private schools because it puts students first. First, there's a photo mosaic of past graduates, then the trophy case with the school's two signed basketballs from when it won state championships (3A) in 2018 and 2019. Only then, around the corner, comes the wall of donors — the people who gave the $26 million to build the new school.

Nik Tucker also had a hand in that mural. It started as a stand-alone outdoor sculpture, then moved indoors to look like a stained glass window. The acrylic panels vary in size and color depending on donation level. (Mary and Tim Boyle of Columbia Sportswear are the biggest fish, giving more than $1 million.)

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Another score for a school that takes pride in athletics, especially basketball and volley ball, is the weight room. At the last school the Knights had no such thing.

In the name of the donor

Ashleigh de Villiers, the school's vice president for advancement, said they have about 275 students this year, but the campus can accommodate 350.

Almost every room is named after a donor. "The art classroom is $250,000," she said matter of factly. "We had 12 donors of a million dollars or more, and it was a $26 million campaign."

De Villiers opened a classroom door on art teacher Tina McDermott, who was laying out student art for parent-teacher conferences.

"It's such a welcoming space," said McDermott, who also likes it because it opens directly onto the courtyard.


The church had an elementary school that closed in 1986, which had a gym and an old kitchen. The designers expanded the kitchen for making school lunches, and turned the old gym into sciences classes with high ceilings and skylights. Teacher Amy Lacks was thrilled with the science benches, storage, sinks, and the fact that they could do their dissections instead of watching her.

The only issue was acoustics, but she hoped the architect would return to add sound baffles to the ceiling.

Work placement

There is a room dedicated to the corporate program with a wall of names detailing the companies where the students are working.

Olivia Howard, a De La Salle North alumna, checks the students in and makes sure they get off to work. They work one day a week and two days a week once a month.

"They like to do office work, administrative work, and they can do interesting things like input data into the computers," Howard said.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - De La Salle North High School's new campus in North Portland has room to expand is they buy up neighboring lots.

Asked what they do at Nike, she said, "They can kind of do a little bit of everything. When people think of Nike, they automatically think of shoe design. The students are more behind the scenes, in the office, doing all the work that needs to be done to promote the shoe." Howard says a gig at architecture firm Mahlum is a good one. "They're really nice people, and they have equipment that involves laser cutting, and they're hands-on the construction site. They really like the students that work there."

Howard added, "And of course, OnPoint Community Credit Union has been a longtime supporter. They have the biggest team. And Columbia Sportswear. When I was going to school here, I worked at AAA, and that was really cool. And I also worked at ICTC, the International Center for Traditional Childbearing, like house birthing and natural remedies. That was really fun."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Life sciences teacher Amy Lacks enjoying her new classroom. Note the science sinks and modern lighting. Bora Architecure split up the old elementary school gym to make classrooms and built a huge new gym.

Low-income, high hopes

Of the $26 million construction project, Oscar Leong said, "The school has always wanted and struggled to have their home with their own." However, it got fast-tracked because of the need to be out of the PPS building by July 31 or see the school dissolve.

"And not just finding the right location — the right size to really fit the needs of the school was the hard part."

The breakthrough was working with the St. Charles Parish, Leong said.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Alumnus and now Bora architecture designer Nik Tucker (right), who worked on the design of the new campus, is greeted by one of his former teachers.

"March 12, 2019, was really the start of this project because it took us about eight months to come to an agreement to live with each other in partnership, and we'll do whatever it takes to make sure we can build a school here."

Leong went to a Christian Brothers high school, which served a similar demographic —low-income students.

The goal is for the school to top out at 375 students in five years. "We promised our community that every child that we accept will have a place to work. We're going to be a school that serves the needs of kids that want to be a part of our academic program, but also the innovative work program."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A De La Salle North High School religious studies teacher prepares for parent teacher conferences.

As for the young man now working with Bora, Leong said,

"Nik (Tucker)'s vision and his insight and his imagery help create spaces that he, as a student, would love to visit."

Tucker is an architectural engineer, not licensed yet as an architect. He says he walked through the old building and imagined walls coming down and windows opening up.

When thinking about using the old gym for sports, "The Bora team said, 'Let's flip it around. Let's use the old gym not only for science class but for a science prep room,' which we never had before, and maker space for the school. So the footprint worked out beautifully."

He added, "They asked 'What should the (new) gym floor look like?' My request was 'Make it bold!'"

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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