Is a Rebuild in the Future for Ida B. Wells?

Ida B. Wells Barnett High-school is scheduled to be rebuilt in 2025. Design teams will work with the community to modernize this historic building.


Anna Stiffler, Intro Writer

In 1945, Portland’s population was rapidly increasing. That same year, a ballot measure was passed that provided 5 million dollars to build and renovate the schools in Portland. Nine years later, construction on Ida B. Wells started. 

The school board was forced to prioritize a small budget and timely construction to keep up with the rapidly growing population of Portland, which was in need of more educational spaces. To decrease production time, designers built the school using lift-slab, making Ida B. Wells the first building to be built using lift-slab in the Pacific Northwest.

Lift-slab is a method of construction created by Phillp N Youtz and Thomas B Slick in 1948. It allows all levels of the building to be cast at ground level, then lifted with hydraulics to their desired height. The process allows for quicker and cheaper construction since less framework and scaffolding need to be built. 

The process isn’t extremely common because failure in the lifting process isn’t uncommon. After the L’Ambiance Plaza disaster, when a residential building under construction collapsed, killing over 20 people, many regulations and restrictions were established . This led to lift-slab building becoming less common. 

In 2013, the Ida B Wells roof was strengthened with money from the 2012 Bond. David Mayne is the Bond Communications Manager for PPS. “As part of the 2017 Bond program the District undertook Conceptual Master Planning on what was then Wilson High School, along with Jefferson & Cleveland, in preparation of placing those schools on a future Bond that would fund construction of modernized or rebuild Schools,” said Mayne. “Jefferson was the only school funded for construction through the 2020 Bond.”

While Jefferson was the only school funded for actual construction, IBW received funding for future modernization plans and designs. Mayne said that there is likely to be another bond by 2024, where funding for the rebuild would be requested. 

Modernization for Ida B. Wells will follow similar guidelines to McDaniel’s, another school in the district. “McDaniel’s proposed modernization will completely reconfigure and update learning spaces with a focus on indoor environmental quality, sustainability and historic preservation,” said Mayne. “Full modernizations retain the historic character of the school while bringing those buildings up to code and concurrently creating a more modern learning environment.” During conceptual master planning, the most sustainable and cost effective design will be made. For Ida B. Wells this includes a partial or complete rebuild.

Students at Ida B. Wells are hopeful to see modernizations at their school, but are doubtful on whether it will actually happen within our high school experience. Several changes that students hope to see are quieter radiators, new classroom equipment, updated textbooks, and newer technology for teachers. A trio of freshmen, Eliana Walcott, Isaac McKenzie, and Ellen Murchison eagerly await the changes. “I think it’s happening because other schools have been renovated, like Lincoln,” said Walcott. “I think it should happen. But it won’t happen till after we graduate [2025].”

McKenzie said they wouldn’t mind seeing the money go to other places in the district. “I remember at my old middle school, [Robert Gray] there was a spot with loose bricks that you could pull out in chunks,” they said. 

With many old schools across Portland, it isn’t uncommon to see problems and malfunctions. This is part of the reason schools are being rebuilt. 

The Average age of most PPS schools is 77 years, and there are several buildings over 100 years old. Ida B. Wells, while still an old school, is considered young for a PPS building. 

Murchison pointed out that renovations would be a big disturbance if they were done during the school year. The past year of online school will make the modernization process quicker and smoother than years past. It will also allow modernization to occur without taking away from the education received. “My friend’s mom went here when she was in high school and they haven’t updated it since,” Murchison said, “it looks exactly the same as when she went here, so I do think it needs to be done.”