What’s the model if this thing passes?
Seattle is 15 years into a comparable undertaking of modernizing buildings—and they’re tackling buildings that, in some cases, were built by the same architects who designed buildings in Portland. They’ve done a remarkable job. But you could look at Beaverton, where they have beautiful new schools. In Portland, we built Rosa Parks, in 2005. It’s a fabulous building that has received national awards for being a great learning environment. That’s what we can achieve.
This bond only runs for six years. Why such a short timeframe?
We’re looking at an entire portfolio of buildings with huge needs. So how can we chunk this up in increments that make sense? This first round involves total remodeling in some buildings, and learning-environment upgrades that touch every single school. That’s how the package is constructed, and it’s done with short-term debt instruments, so the whole thing is done with and paid for in six years. Then we can go back to voters and show them fully renovated learning spaces.
So you hope to demonstrate success, and then ask for more.
The longer-term plan is to make over every high school over 15 years—they are the biggest-ticket item, so it makes sense to do them out of the shoot. But we’re looking at upgrades spread across the district. We’re looking to focus on science classrooms in the middle grades, because we’ve identified that as an important strategic need. We’re working on student achievement in a lot of different ways, but this is one of the structural things we need to achieve those goals.
Portlanders like to think they live in a cutting-edge city. It’s frankly hard to feel that way when you walk into a crumbling school. Will this change that?
We’ve got an incredible design and architecture community in Portland, so right there you have enormous opportunities. We can retain our historic character and, at the same time, create modern learning environments. So, yes.
Just to ask a personal question, how big is this bond in the context of your career?
I feel like the decisions we’re making right now are not about surviving the next few years, but setting things in motion for decades to come. I look 10 years from now, and I want to be able to feel proud of what we’ve built. People come to Portland to see what we’ve got. I want the schools to be part of that. Right now, our buildings are a challenge, not an asset. But we can change that.