John Adams High School  John Adams High School, Portland, Oregon 1969 to 1981

set for destruction

District aims wrecking ball at Whitaker
History - The school board OKs borrowing $2.1 million to raze what's become an eyesore
Thursday, August 24, 2006

Vandals inspired by Whitaker Middle School's vacant, dimly lit hulk have made a mess out of a building already burdened with one of Portland's messiest pasts.
This week, the Portland School Board pledged again to clean it up, giving district officials the go-ahead to borrow $2.1 million to raze the building.

Wrecking crews could begin knocking down the Northeast Portland school in early November, said Kerry Hampton, the district's property manager. It could take as long as three months to completely clear the site, he said.

Marcia Taylor, who has lived across the street from the school since 1974, says she'll be relieved to be rid of the building. Three of her children attended the school when it was Adams High School.

"It's just really been a shame," Taylor said. "It was just a beautiful school when it was built."

Students haven't attended the school since district leaders closed it in 2001. Whitaker was built in 1966 with windows that didn't open, a flaw that contributed to the buildup of radon. A leaky roof and lack of ventilation encouraged the growth of toxic mold, and a host of other structural problems made the 268,899-square-foot building too costly to repair.

And though the community uses the adjacent track and grounds, the school itself is riddled with graffiti and garbage, and boards cover most of the windows.

Whitaker neighborhood students now attend Tubman Middle School, a seven-mile haul across the city by bus. Apart from the toll that traveling takes on students, leaving the school vacant has cost taxpayers. Since 2002, the district has spent just shy of $700,000 in maintenance, utilities and insurance for the empty building.

The district will borrow the demolition money, Hampton said, because interest on the loan will cost as much or less than the district now spends maintaining the building. After the building is gone, the district intends to sell the southern 5.8 acres of the approximately 10-acre site to a residential developer. Hampton estimates that the land will bring in at least enough to repay the loan, with as much as $787,000 left over.

But construction of a replacement school, which former Superintendent Jim Scherzinger promised five years ago, will have to wait. Portland Public Schools' construction bond expired in 2005, and the district doesn't have money to replace the school.
The school board passed a resolution in 2005 that sets aside half of the proceeds from the future sale of Washington High School for capital improvements at the Whitaker site. With an elementary school costing between $12 million and $15 million, and a middle school ranging from $18 million to $23 million, the district must raise much more to replace Whitaker.

Michelle Ovando, chairwoman of the Concordia Neighborhood Association, said neighbors hope the district sells to developers who will build affordable homes that fit in with the neighborhood.

"We're anxious to get that school brought down. It draws in gang activity and drug activity," Ovando said. "It's a big building and easy to hide behind."

Paige Parker: 503-221-8305;