Grant High School Back in the Day and Today

lbl_student-portrait.jpgIf I knew then what I know now, I probably would have reacted a bit differently when the Nisqually Earthquake hit in 2001. I was a student at Grant High School and felt the shaking in the middle of my ceramics class. The class was on the second floor of the north wing, an addition built in the 1950’s. I remember feeling a little vertigo and the outside landscape seemed to sway. There wasn’t much shaking, so I remember thinking it was more thrilling than terrifying. In all, the day wasn’t affected much by the earthquake. No one went home, there were no announcements, no real acknowledgement or community outcry for an immediate seismic upgrade. It was just a little reminder that we’re floating around on gigantic tectonic plates. No big deal.

Now, almost two decades later, I’m an engineer working on a team hired to seismically upgrade and modernize the very school that was essentially my home for four years. Though it’s been some time, I can still remember the halls and classrooms where I spent a lot of my time: going to class, playing soccer, fundraising, driver’s education, hanging out with friends. When I look at plans of the modernization of Grant High School for Portland Public Schools, I can visualize each room. When thinking of the school’s many different spaces, I can't help but wonder how it will affect the flow of students and change the community that I still call my own.

Since that day in 2001, I’ve experienced other earthquakes of greater magnitude and understand how buildings react and can be effected by ground shaking. Needless to say, ignorance was bliss. We were lucky that the Nisqually Earthquake wasn’t closer or more damaging. (The Nisqually Earthquake was centered near Olympia, WA and was magnitude 6.8.)

Buildings built in the 1920’s, like much of Grant High School, were built before we understood how buildings react to ground shaking caused by earthquakes. They were built before we knew about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the fault that stretches from Northern California up to Canada and is capable of causing intense ground shaking for several minutes (e.g. Tōhoku Japan in 2011, magnitude 9.0; and Chile in 2010, magnitude 8.8). Luckily, we’ve come a long way in building design and retrofits over the years, and I feel that the general awareness of living in seismically active areas has increased considerably. With the community support and understanding of seismic risk that we have today, buildings like Grant High School can be retrofitted to be safer than before.


As I reflect on all of this, I feel proud to be a part of the modernization’s structural design team. In addition to upgrading its seismic performance and safety, the design team made improvements to the school while saving its character. This includes preserving the original auditorium and grand entrance seen from NE 36th Ave, enlarging existing classrooms, creating new lab spaces, and adding a new gym.

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Renderings Courtesy of Mahlum

I feel that any changes that this modernization will have on the community will be beneficial, and the strong sense of school pride won’t change. That future students, including my daughter, will be able to experience the school in a similar way that I did and benefit from a more spacious and safer school. Grant High School will continue to be a fixture in northeast Portland and be a safer place for all who use it.

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