The all-new Kellogg School construction on S.E. Powell has moved along well, thanks to the dry 2019 weather

JONATHAN HOUSE - From left, with the new Kellogg Middle School on S.E. Powell under construction behind them, are: Oh planning + design architect Timothy Ayersman, Todd Construction project superintendent Monte Carothers, and Portland Public Schools Office of Modernization project manager Steve Effros.When students arrive at the new Kellogg Middle School in fall 2021, they'll find their lessons go beyond books and classrooms.

The 110,000-square-foot building on the corner of S.E. Powell Boulevard and 69th Avenue has been designed to do more than provide spaces to learn. The school also will offer examples of how the elements of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) come into play in the real world – from a display showing how much water the building uses, to a plaque that explains how the exposed bracing in a stairwell will help protect the building in the case of an earthquake.

The school is the first to be built specifically to accommodate Portland Public Schools' shift from a K-8 approach back to a middle school program geared specifically for students in grades six through eight. The school also offers some lessons for Portland Public Schools itself. In addition to being the school district's first carbon-neutral school, Kellogg features systems that will allow water usage and energy efficiency to be tracked almost down to an LED light bulb.

While Kellogg isn't necessarily the prototype for future middle schools that PPS might build, it is expected to serve as a model for "best practices" for PPS, according to Steve Effros, a senior project manager in the school district's Office of Modernization.

"I guess you could say that as a building, it's going to encompass all the new ideas about middle school education," he said

Old and new

The new school building is expected to help bring new vitality to a corner in an Inner Southeast Portland residential neighborhood that has been mostly inactive since the original Kellogg Middle School building was shuttered more than ten years ago. The old three-story structure, constructed in 1917, closed in 2007 as a result of district-wide enrollment and budgetary issues. While PPS looked at reopening the school several times, those plans never moved forward. Other than being used occasionally for meetings, the building sat vacant for a decade.

In 2017, however, the district decided to ask voters to support a $790 million construction bond that, along with upgrading three existing high schools, would get Kellogg Middle School back open.

A common preference of the district and the community for a spate of recent construction bond projects has been to modernize existing buildings, such as the recent project at Grant High School, whenever possible. In the case of Kellogg, however, that wasn't considered feasible. High costs associated with abating asbestos and lead paint in the century-old structure, as well as upgrading the building to current seismic standards, were just part of the problem.

"The classrooms were oriented wrong – you'd get glaring light," remarked Tim Ayersman, a senior associate with Oh planning + design. "A second gymnasium area in the 1980s was attached to the exterior, where stairs went up and down, creating difficulty meeting modern-day [accessibility] requirements."

"We did a thorough study between [modernization] and replacement," Effros added; "To meet all the programming needs and all the health and safety requirements, the cost actually came out better to build new. . . This gives us a chance to create a new shell and a new opportunity. I think there's a lot of flexibility being built into the design for that very reason."

Maximizing minimal space

The old school building was demolished in 2018 to make way for the new school, which will sit closer to Powell Boulevard than its predecessor, to fall in line with street frontage design standards.

The Powell side of the school will contain three stories of classroom suites, also called "learning suites". The structure will then "step down" into a single level containing administrative offices, a commons area, and a gymnasium and multipurpose area, which will be along S.E. 69th Avenue.

"By bringing up . . . the taller part of the building (along Powell), we were able to step the building down as it moved into the neighborhood, to work the scale down into [that of] the neighborhood," Ayersman explained.

The six-acre site on which the school is being built is smaller than acreage usually associated with modern-day middle schools. That required the design team and the school district to get creative when it came to designing in and around the building.

An outdoor area, required to provide emergency vehicles with access to a side of the building without direct street access, will serve double duty as an outdoor courtyard that students and staff can access via the school's interior commons area.

Meanwhile, the gymnasium will double as a performing arts space, with a stage set in one wall. Fold-up seating along an opposite wall can be opened up for students during plays and other events that use the stage. The seats can then be folded out of the way to accommodate basketball games and other sports events. "It's a very unique approach . . . but because of square footage, you can't build two separate facilities," Ayersman said.

Making effective use of space still allowed some unique features to be included in the design.

In the three-story learning suites section of the school, for example, hallways offer separate learning areas where students can work on projects in small groups, giving teachers more flexibility in structuring their classes, and how they teach students.

Individual classrooms also feature "safe spots" in the form of window seats that allow students who need a break to step away from the swirl of a full class while still being able to participate in activities. It's an approach that the district has been using in more traditional classrooms, which is now being deliberately included in the new school's design, according to David Mayne, bond communications manager for PPS. "It's just one more tool in the toolbox for a teacher," he said.

Sustainable specifics

A new PPS policy requires that all new schools be built to target a Gold rating in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). While Kellogg Middle School has been designed to hit that goal, the building's design and construction take the concept of sustainability even further.

When it opens, Kellogg will become the district's first carbon-neutral school building. Achieving that a came down to a simple, but major, step – switching from traditional gas boilers to electric ones.

While achieving a carbon-neutral building wasn't a requirement for the project, the fact that it was accomplished for Kellogg means it likely will be a consideration when the district looks at building other new middle schools in the future, Effros said. The building also has been designed and constructed so that it can be outfitted to become a net-zero building. Early energy savings will result in the short-term from approaches, such as using special materials between metal plate connections to reduce thermal bridging, and placing insulation beneath the concrete foundation and along the bottom of the building. In addition, when the school opens, the roof over the gymnasium multipurpose area will feature a photovoltaic solar panel array.

The roof of the learning suites section of the school has been set up to be outfitted in a final phase of the project with a photovoltaic solar array of panels that will allow the school to generate at least as much energy as it uses. While a timeline for that final phase hasn't been determined, it's something that's a goal for the school district, according to Effros.

"There are no specific plans yet; but certainly, there's a desire to be able to [make it net-zero]," he said. "It's been engineered to basically attach a separate component in the future."

Blue skies

Todd Construction, as project general contractor, started work on the school in July of 2019. Construction is slated to wrap up in early 2021, which will give teachers and administrators time to get settled into the building before students arrive that fall. The building will have the capacity to handle 810 students. However, the average student enrollment is expected to be around 675 – what Mayne says is considered the building's "functional capacity". The district is still figuring out logistics, including which students will attend Kellogg once it opens, and whether to bring all grades in at once, or introduce them year by year. In the meantime, the tilt-up concrete panels for the gymnasium were in place by the end of 2019, and crews are next worked the structural steel. Further down the line, the building's exterior of Nichiha cement panels and metal will be tackled.

The project is on track, an accomplishment that Todd's project superintendent, Monte Carothers, contributes in part to the weather in the second half of 2019. "The drier-than-normal fall and early winter made a difference," he reflected. "That was a big help."

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