Craftspeople from more than 17 trades are working to finish the first phase of the new Gresham High School, while other workers haul out furniture and strip the old main section of the school to prepare it for demolition.
"It's incredible to see Phase 1 of the project almost completed," said Katrise Perera, superintendent for the Gresham-Barlow School District. "Crews are wrapping up work on the classroom tower, which will be ready for students when school opens in the fall.
"We are also looking forward to the completion of the new auditorium this winter," she added. "The space will shine the spotlight on our award winning performing arts program, and it will be available for community use as well."
About 70% of the school at 1200 N. Main Ave. is being replaced in the remodel.
The first part of the new Gresham High will have 42 classrooms in a three-story building.
Some of the concrete floors in the new classroom tower have already been polished. Walls are up and windows installed in many of the rooms. The brick exterior is substantially completed, and the main entrance for the Gophers will be flipped from Main Avenue to what was previously the back of the school.
The theater at the corner of Main Avenue and Division Street is well underway and will open for student and community productions in February.
The new building honors the old one, which craftsmen from the Works Progress Administration designed and built in 1940.
The iconic Art Deco bas relief "muse" sculptures that adorned the facade of the old theater wing of the building were carefully removed and have been restored. The four muses, each weighing about 7,000 pounds, have been placed in a courtyard of the new classroom building.
The construction crew took rubber molds of the four muses and are constructing durable replicas to install on the front of the new building.
"The muses tie together the past and the future of the school," Perera said. "They serve as a reminder of the many generations that have graduated from GHS."
Prior to demolition of the old main entrance to the building, the large Art Deco sculptures that grace the top of that part of the building also will be removed and restored — a tricky operation, as each one weighs 32,000 pounds.
Gresham High has played a significant part of the area's history and culture, and some in the community urged the district to preserve the building's unique history.
Construction on the historic school was started on July 11, 1939, and paid for with $133,000 in bonds. Truman E. Phillips, a prominent WPA designer, served as the original building's architect.
Students began attending classes in the north wing in February 1940, and the cornerstone was laid at the main entrance on Dec. 9. The school's enrollment at the time was 880 students.
The prominent tower crane used in the construction of the new building is scheduled to be taken down at the end of July. Workers will bring in another crane to help with dismantling the first crane.
"We've used that crane so much. I'm so glad we've had it," said Dave Salisbury of Fortis Construction Inc., superintendent for the complex project.
Students will go to class in the new wing while having to get to other parts of the old campus, some of which will still be under construction.
Builders will create a safe path for students to move from the new wing through the construction of the new middle section to the preserved parts of the school that will be used in the 2019-20 school year, including the cafeteria.
This is nothing new, as the Gophers have attended class in the middle part of the building while construction took place next door.
In the old section of the building headed for demolition this summer, the main office is empty of its computers, and the trophy cases outside are bare. Furniture and supplies are being hauled out of the building prior to its demolition.
The entire remodel and rebuilding of the school won't be completed until spring 2021.
The building program is paid for by a $291.2 million bond Gresham-Barlow district voters approved in November 2016.
Barlow High School is being remodeled and expanded, and the Barlow Bruins are getting a long wished-for athletic stadium.
New North and East Gresham elementary schools are being replaced and will be open for students this fall. All district schools got safety and security upgrades, while some got additional classrooms and new playgrounds.
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