Teachable moment: Gardiner Middle School breaks ground
Gardiner Middle School broke ground recently on what could be one of the last large school building projects for a while in the Portland region.
The Oregon City school's featureless beige box will be replaced by a state-of-the-art $90 million learning environment designed by BRIC Architecture.
Educators, students, administrators and ACE (architecture, engineering and construction) professionals gathered March 11 to celebrate and then turn some soil for the record.
At the ceremony Dave Johnson, a principal in charge with BRIC Architecture told Pamplin Media Group that designing the new Gardiner has been a very different process from normal.
"The district very much wanted to make the most of the opportunity that the 2018 bond presented, one incorporating multiple and diverse voices into the design team," he said. "Thirty-seven members of our design committee were middle school students. And that perspective was huge."
Johnson said middle schoolers who will never use the school still contributed valuable ideas. Some of it was in the area of "stress related to transitions." Going from class to class in quick-moving streams of students is stressful, which has been made worse by overcrowding.
Clearly excited, the students proudly joined in the gold shovel photo opportunity.
BRIC has designed spaces with the intention of being student-friendly.
"They need spaces where they can come together and meet diverse needs, say, eating lunch in a way where they could also work together on homework, or finding a quiet space that they could also eat," Johnson said.
The school is organized into teams, currently two per grade level. A lot of the design work was developing "learning neighborhoods" or spaces of five elements where those teams could work. The school has about 1,000 students and each team is about 150 kids and five teachers.
The new building will be constructed on the site of the existing running track, in the same manner as Lincoln High School in downtown Portland. Students will switch to the new building when it opens, then the old one will be demolished and replaced by a new athletic field.
The old building will be fully operational during construction. Fortunately, there is a lot of space on the athletic field for staging materials and machinery.
"Keeping construction zones separate from students and ensuring the safety of those kids during construction is the No. 1 priority," Johnson said.
The delivery method is construction manager/general contractor (CMGC), and LGC Pence Construction has been involved in the design coordination meetings from the start.
"This makes sure that we're realizing efficiencies and best practices," he said, "and to make sure we're delivering the most economy for taxpayer dollars."
Johnson said one benefit of having the CMGC on board early was their cost estimating and updating, so the architect could stay on budget as materials prices changed.
"Our design team was motivated to build on the backs of others and ensure that they weren't making mistakes as a result of not seeing what else others had done," he said.
They went to San Diego and looked at schools called High Tech High and Design 39. They also connected with teachers and administrators at the Prestwick K-8 Academy and Colony High School in Texas to get ideas about "program" or what functions go where in a modern school.
The existing Gardiner has many large, windowless walls.
"We've learned a lot that having students and teachers in spaces that are flooded with natural light has an impact on student engagement and learning. The new building will be a big leap from what students and teachers experienced currently."
There will be a mock-up in the Jackson campus gym of the new building's "learning neighborhood" so teachers can test the furniture and do professional development, with an eye to being ready as soon as the new school opens in early August 2021.
"It's an aggressive schedule, but the benefit of having the CMGC on board means we can identify critical path items and make sure that we can meet that schedule," Johnson said.
Timber Hall takes the place of the auditorium. It will be part cafeteria, part learning neighborhood, part stage and part gathering area.
"It is connected to the second floor, the library and the secure outdoor courtyard. The idea being there that students have some degree of autonomy and choice and can flex and flow between each of those three spaces based on their particular need," he said.
All new schools have security in mind, to allay fears of a school shooter. Gardiner will have a secure vestibule with good lines of sight to the drop-off and parking areas, and 8-foot-high ornamental fencing.
This being a rainy climate, there will be a new, covered play structure.
"So, on all but the really worst days, students will have places to get outside, because we've heard so much from students about how important those outdoor areas are as places to decompress, to get outside of their built environment," Johnson said.
The existing Gardiner was designed for grades seven and eight as a junior high. And when the district brought sixth grade up and created a middle school, there was a need for an additional classroom. That explains the portable buildings up front, which will be going away.
Schools are Pence's specialty
For contractor LGC Pence Construction, this is another in a long line of K-12 projects. Pence is building projects in Kaiser near Salem, Reynolds High School, Sifton Elementary in Vancouver, Washington, and a K-12 in Hillsboro.
Carl Schrank, project manager, said: "It's just really nice to be working a clean, greenfield site. You don't have to interfere or interact with students. We're well separated from them; we can build a full suite without interference."
Project executive C.A. White explains that the company is so successful in getting this work because they listen to what the school boards want.
"I think it's the experienced teams that we have to go compete with for the work. Carl's done lots of schools and I've been working on schools since 2005, that's kind of all we've done."
They also aim to get it done quickly. According to a spokesperson for BRIC, work is still happening in April despite the coronavirus social distancing rules.
"We have a pretty aggressive schedule here," Schrank said. "We think we'll have a fantastic project and deliver the building right on time."
Voters in the Oregon City School District approved a $158 million bond measure in the November 2018 election. Approximately $90 million of OCSD's bond is slated to replace Gardiner Middle School and $20 million will renovate Ogden Middle School, officials estimate.
Much of the remaining $48 million was allocated to address safety and security updates that started last summer at the district's other 10 schools.
The bond funds are matched by $7.7 million from the Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching Program.
Gardiner Middle School replacement
180 Ethel St.
Oregon City, OR
Developer: Oregon City School District
Designer: BRIC Architecture
Contractor LGC Pence Construction
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