Cool New Schools

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), September 18, 2004 | Go to article overview

Cool New Schools


Byline: The Register-Guard

Walk into most of the schools the Eugene School District built to accommodate the baby boom, and the phrase "low-bid architecture" comes to mind.

Many of the buildings feel cramped and airless, with low ceilings, flat roofs and few or no windows. Long after the construction savings were forgotten, baby boomers' children and grandchildren are still paying the price.

A look at the Eugene district's two new schools - the first built since McCornack Elementary, in 1968 - shows that the lessons of earlier architectural mistakes have been learned. Bertha Holt Elementary and Cesar Chavez Elementary schools feel like places people would want to go to learn, work and play.

The schools are architectural twins, with the instructional areas arranged in the shape of the letter H. The crossbar houses the main offices and the library. On each side are two clusters of four classrooms, with each cluster sharing a common area.

In planning for the new schools, the district had four goals: openness, light, a design that promoted communication between students and teachers, and safety. The architects, Dull Olson Weekes of Portland, met each of those goals.

Appended to the basic H shape is a separate wing housing a music room that can be converted to a stage, a cafeteria and a maple-floored gymnasium. These spaces are separate from the classrooms so that they can be opened for community use before or after school hours. The gymnasiums, in particular, will be assets for the entire community, which is chronically short of playing and practice space for basketball, volleyball and other indoor sports.

Holt replaces Washington and Willakenzie schools, and Chavez replaces Westmoreland and Patterson schools, along with the Family alternative school that shared Patterson's building. Someone had the brilliant idea of having each student in the old schools make a tile that would be used to decorate the new buildings. …

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