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Roosevelt High School
By Arashi Young | The Skanner News
Published: 17 August 2015

Critics of the Roosevelt High School remodel won a sizable victory in their campaign to enhance STEM education at the North Portland School.

Last week the Portland Public School Board passed a resolution authorizing the study of an alternate design for the remodel. Resolution 5131 will assess the feasibility of turning an existing 1970s shop building into a modern technology education “makerspace.” This large space is slated for demolition in the current master plan.

This is the latest development in two-year conflict between local STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) advocates and PPS officials. At the center of the debate is the career technical education space within the Roosevelt remodel.

Technical education spaces, also known as “makerspaces” or “hackerspaces,” are creative, do-it-yourself spaces where people use electronics, 3D printers, tools and hardware supplies to build, invent and learn. These spaces are often multi-disciplinary, combining electronics with traditional construction and fabrication elements.

Critics say the currently designated space is too small and breaks up STEM education into two even-smaller areas, making the entire makerspace ineffective. For more background, read The Skanner News’ two-part series on the Roosevelt remodel.

Technology educator Donna Cohen, who spearheaded the Roosevelt STEM advocacy effort, told the school board at last Wednesday’s meeting that the alternative design is a huge opportunity.

“It’s not often that we get second chances, and PPS has a second chance to do STEM right at Roosevelt,” Cohen said.

Cohen went on to say this was a chance to make a STEM space worthy of recognition in the city and throughout the region. She also said it required taking a different approach and reaching out to technology education design experts.

Kevin Spellman, who represented the Bond Accountability Committee for PPS, said the resolution was too abrupt and would cause confusion, disruption and distraction. Spellman also indicated that the advocacy group was imposing its will on a design he believes had been vetted through design groups and open houses.

“If this resolution is before the board for a reason that has been debated for the past two years, we don’t support it,” Spellman said, he added that the committee would consider resolutions based off new, pressing information.

A compelling factor may be the addition of community support attached to the STEM work space. The shipbuilder and complex fabrication outfit Vigor Industrial, public makerspace ADX and the nonprofit organization Impact Northwest have all expressed interest in partnering with this Roosevelt STEM initiative.

PPS school board vice chair Amy Kohnstamm said the opportunities from these and other partnerships make it worth passing the resolution.

“To my understanding, there were no very meaningful attempts to form concrete partnerships with industry players who have a vested interest in supporting makerspace and STEM CTE education in our community,” Kohnstamm said. “These partnerships may well include financial investment.”

After discussing concerns about community engagement for the new alternate design, the school board unanimously passed the resolution.

The resolution will provide a full evaluation of the shop building assessing architectural, engineering, electrical and mechanical needs. The analysis will tell the School Improvement Bond Committee how the building could be renovated with a $2 million dollar budget.

The cost of the analysis will come out of bond program reserve funds.

Board Chairman Tom Koehler said the resolution was worth passing because the benefits could be enormous.  

“The opportunities to partner with a variety of organizations are huge; the opportunities for our kids are huge,” he said. 

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