Grant High School Renovates After Century, Materials Find Home at RBC

After opening nearly a century ago in 1924, Grant High School on NE 36th Avenue is being modernized. It is one of three Portland public high schools being renovated in a $480 million effort by the city to improve the schools and their surrounding communities. The modernization of Grant, which began just last month in June, is scheduled to be completed in September of 2019 after an approximate $116.1 million is spent to “completely reconfigure and update learning spaces with a focus on indoor environmental quality, sustainability and historic preservation,” according to to the city website.

Josh Stark, an employee of the Center and native Portlander says he is happy to see the city put money into developing the school and aiding the community. Josh remembers playing for Jefferson, his high school rivals, at tense and hard fought baseball games. With many memories of baseball and basketball games at the school, Josh is happy to see improvements made but wishes that more could be salvaged. Although the city passed a law requiring all houses built before 1916 to be deconstructed rather than demolished, the school, built before this year, doesn't have to follow this law. Many materials that could be salvaged and sold back to the community are being kept at the high school to be soon thrown into the landfill, making Josh wish the city would follow the same rules it requires of its citizens.

After getting approved to pick up items from Grant, the Rebuilding Center got to work last Monday, July 3rd. And after taking the Fourth of July holiday off, the workers went back in on Wednesday, to spend the rest of the week tearing down the old high school. Each day, six to twelve staffers and volunteers from the Rebuilding Center have been on the job, tirelessly working to strip and save as much material as possible from the 275,000-square-foot building, taking in to the store in two truckloads per day.

This job is different and far larger in scope from most of the jobs RBC completes. Usually the driving team arrives on site to pick up items that have been donated or hand-dismantled by our DeConstruction crews. For this site, many of the items had to be DeConstructed. RBC staff took apart many, many large doors off their hinges, and moved sets of three to five lockers down flights of stairs to get them onto the truck. This operation also requires more workers than usual, as employee Andrey explains that, “A DeConstruction typically has only two to three workers at a site, but since this one requires a larger team each day, it’s an adjustment for each of them figure out how to work in the bigger group.”

The workers have been finding lots of neat stuff tucked away in hidden corners of Grant, most of which will soon appear on the floor at the ReBuilding Center. Among their favorite items have been old cupboards and cabinets, really old lumber, and glass chandeliers, which for the most part were built in the early 20th century or before. Klara Kautz, an intern at the ReBuilding Center, said she has found some devices so old she can’t even figure out how they work. She’s also noticed the surplus of beautiful, opaque doors, and other materials that just need a little touching up or re-finishing before they look as good as new, like for instance the large, old chalkboards (selling for $75 a pop). After chatting with the Director of the Rebuilding Center, Stephen Reichard, the two came up with a creative idea that would use two drawers and another small piece of wood from the school to make a nightstand. Klara called this idea “simple, nice and clever,” and it’s just one example of how the many materials from Grant High school could be reused and repurposed and then put back into the community.

RBC Driver, Erik says the most exciting part is saving the materials from the landfill, and since up to 25% of materials from construction go to waste, the reuse work is “pretty amazing.” Although some may be sad to see the old Grant High School go, the opportunities that this project has opened up, both for the ReBuilding Center to salvage materials and the community to have an updated, modernized school, make the whole process a meaningful one for the entire city of Portland.