Goodbye Gresham High
At 8:25 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 16, a giant scoop-like piece of machinery grabbed the top of the main entrance section of historic Gresham High School, gave the structure a tug and brought the whole shebang crashing to the ground with a thundering boom.
And just like that, a part of Gresham's heritage was a pile of rubble.
The historic front of the iconic school was razed as workers finish the new classrooms and theater of the new building nestled right next door.
Students will attend classes in the 53 state-of-the-art classrooms starting in September. The new theater that rises above the corner of Main Avenue and Division Street is scheduled to be finished in winter.
Some students can't wait to attend classes in the new building.
"I'm so excited for the new theater," said Corie Williamson, a senior who sings in the choir and plays trumpet in the band. "I'm excited about the new band and choir rooms."
Rather than facing Main Avenue, the front door and primary student entrance will be flipped to what was formerly the back of the building.
Almost all of the old structure has been demolished.
Of course, some longtime Gresham residents with connections to the school are sorry to see the iconic old building go.
"It makes you feel like you've lost something," said Mike McKeel, a Gresham High graduate and local dentist and developer.
Marianne Ott, who taught French at Gresham High for more than 30 years, said the new building "doesn't seem like a welcoming place.
"I know it has to be done," she added. "But I'm sad to see the old building go."
Val Shaull, also a Gresham Gopher from back in the day, said "I'm kind of sad that they're tearing down the old building. But once I went inside, I can see why, and I'm OK with it. It looks old and the kids deserve better."
The new building "honors" the old one, built in 1940 by workers, craftsmen and artists from the Works Progress Administration. Along with Timberline Lodge, the school was one of the WPA's main projects in the area.
The beige brick building featured the flattened bas-relief sculptures and decoration representative of the WPA and Art Deco building style.
The same beige brick is being installed on parts of the exterior of the new school and decorative elements, like the bas relief arts muses sculptures that reigned above the old theater entrance, are being incorporated into the new school.
McKeel and Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis led a community effort to urge the Gresham-Barlow School District to preserve, or at least honor, the important architecture of the old building.
"It is, or was, the most iconic architecture in the city, if not the whole of East County," McKeel said.
The jury is still out for some on the new building.
"Some parts look like an office building," McKeel said, adding he's reserving judgement. "We'll have to live with it for a year or two."
McKeel noted the new building "will be a functional improvement, and I'm going to be optimistic that it turns out better than not."
The entire remodel and rebuilding of the high school won't be finished until spring 2021.
The "new" Gresham High is part of a building program funded 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.
North and East Gresham elementary schools are being replaced and also will be open for students this fall.
All district schools got safety and security upgrades. Some elementary schools received additional classrooms and others got new playgrounds.
Time capsule found
As construction workers demolished the old 1940 Gresham High School building, they discovered a time capsule that had been sealed in the structure.
Although the capsule was welded shut, workers accidentally tore it open as they knocked down the building. The contents got wet and were damaged.
Administrators from the Gresham-Barlow School District rushed the capsule to their offices and sent the contents, which they declined to reveal, to a restoration company.
Once the restoration is complete, the articles will be returned to their 1940 metal box and a public, ceremonial opening of the capsule likely will be scheduled for a later date.
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