Gophers go home
Jody Fetters wandered the hallways of Gresham High School for the first time since she graduated in 1963. Though she said she enjoys attending reunions, the former Gopher hadn't returned to the school.
"Were the hallways always this long?" Fetters mused as she walked down the second floor.
She noted the desks and lockers were different than when she was in school, and that they didn't have any vending machines.
"It's nice to be back," Fetters said.
Fetters was one of hundreds of Gophers who returned to the high school to remember the good old days and to say goodbye to the historic building that is set for the next phase in a sweeping, and needed, remodel.
All of the hallways were open to visit, as was the library. Gophers peered into the classrooms to see what had changed since they were in school. There was a table full of yearbooks, renderings were displayed with information about what the new school will look like, and many posed in front of the main entry for one last photo.
About 70% of Gresham High School will be replaced as part of the district's building program funded by the $291.2 million bond school district voters passed in November of 2016.
Joe Breniser sat on the stairway in the main foyer looking over the plans for the new school during the open house Sunday afternoon, June 9.
"It's time for a remodel, but it's sad to see things change as well," Breniser said. "This is a sentimental place, I remember all the people I went to school with from grade school to graduation."
The one thing the class of 1965 graduate didn't remember was the walls being so short in the hallways.
"We were just taller then," joked another Gopher in passing.
Everyone at the open house loved sharing stories from their time in school.
Lou Nederhiser, class of 1947, marveled at how different everything looked. When he first attended, the school was only three years old. Now he wandered through the halls on the eve of it being torn down with his son.
"I remember the first assembly they announced someone there was 82 years old," Nederhiser said. "My friend and I looked at each other and said, 'Wow.'"
Yaneira Romero, class of 2008, was flipping through the yearbooks to find her old photos.
"It's nice to relive memories and walk through the hallways again," Romero said.
Her family is filled with Gophers — her cousins and aunt were also at the event. Her younger siblings will get to experience the new high school, though Romero said she was glad they got to spend their freshman year in the old space.
Phase two of construction will begin on Monday, June 24. So much is changing, it's easier to list what won't be touched. All that will remain will be the pool, cafeteria, auxiliary gym, boys locker room and weight room.
Not everything will go away, as the district made a concerted effort to retain portions of the school.
A new courtyard will feature a "muse garden" that will display the iconic, historic bas relief sculptures created by artists from the Works Progress Administration for the 1940 building. The bas relief muses formerly adorned the Main Avenue entrance to the school's auditorium and depicted draped figures holding symbols of the arts.
The two iconic gingko trees on either side of the current main entrance will be preserved.
The new auditorium and black box theater, on the corner of Main Avenue and Division Street, will be ready for student performances in the winter. It will create a striking anchor at that corner with the visually expansive, glassed-in lobby of the new auditorium.
In the new building, the busy student entrance will be flipped from Main Avenue front to what is now the back.
The new construction "honors" the historic Art Deco style building but is not preserving the historic beige brick facade.
Tony Litzer didn't attend Gresham High as a student, but he did teach English there from 1972 to 2000, later spending five years as a substitute.
"It's mystical being back here," he said. "I walked these halls for so many years, it feels like I'm following my own footsteps."
He is excited for the new building, and is envious he won't get to teach in it.
"It's been long needed, we outgrew this place a longtime ago," he said.