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November 27th, 2013 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

A Lesson In Sharing

Neighbors fear a university’s ambitions will overwhelm a low-income school.

news1_4004ILLUSTRATION: Nick Patton
No shortage of excitement—or hyperbole—has greeted preparations for the first new school to be built with the nearly $500 million voters gave Portland Public Schools last year.

“There’s nothing quite like this in the country,” architect Chris Linn told a design advisory group Nov. 21 at Faubion Elementary, a pre-K-8 school located at 3039 NE Rosa Parks Way, next to Concordia University.

Faubion, a low-slung single-story building from 1950, will be demolished and replaced—the only new school to be built with the bond money.

Most of the voter-approved revenue ($257 million out of $482 million) will go to renovate Grant, Franklin and Roosevelt high schools, with $27.5 million to be spent on Faubion, and the rest spread across 63 other schools.

What’s unique about the new Faubion? Its partnership with Concordia’s education department. The two schools will share real estate, and Concordia students will work intensively with Faubion students. Concordia has pledged to raise at least $7.5 million for the project.

But some parents at Faubion worry that the private Lutheran university is getting a taxpayer subsidy for its athletics department.

Parents have only recently learned the scope of Concordia’s ambitions: The college wants to build an NCAA-quality softball stadium at Faubion.

And the discovery surprised even people involved in the planning.

Ethan Jewett, a Faubion parent and member of the design advisory group, says neighbors became alarmed when preliminary renderings showed an elaborate softball stadium being plunked down on Faubion’s  playground, which also serves as a neighborhood park.

“Nobody that I know knows anything definitive about the genesis of the softball field or how it would be an amenity for Faubion students,” Jewett says.

But Concordia executive vice president Gary Withers says the institutions are aligned. “I think our interests are the same,” he says. “What’s good for the community is good for the university.”

Faubion is a high-poverty school—more than three-quarters of its 487 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—while Concordia is a fast-growing private university with a 10-campus network in 10 states.

Concordia last year opened a law school in Boise, Idaho, and its Portland campus has doubled in the past 20 years to nearly 2,000 students. Faubion parents, meanwhile, worry about getting their kids into high school.

Although Concordia officials have said the softball field is merely an option, neighbors note that Concordia’s softball coach and her team showed up at a Nov. 16 open house and lobbied hard for inclusion of the facility.

And visitors to the university’s website see a description of Concordia’s 2015 jump from National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II—“moving to the big leagues,” the website says.

Jewett says the skepticism about a softball field comes from the presumption that kids and the community would not be granted access to a gated, artificial-turf softball field. He says Concordia’s new turf soccer field near Faubion is essentially off limits to neighborhood use.

“The amenities they are proposing look like something off a Concordia strategic plan, not something our kids would ever use,” Jewett says.

Last week’s meeting of the Faubion advisory group kicked off in curious fashion. Linn, the lead architect on the project, told staff and neighbors they were not allowed to discuss how the property would be used. “We’re not talking about the site,” said Linn, a principal at Boora Architects. “We won’t talk about the softball field.”

Linn also banned discussion of what might happen to neighboring St. Michael’s Lutheran Church. (The church is independent of the university.)

Concordia’s renderings show the church would be torn down and replaced by an auditorium that would occasionally be available for use by Faubion students.

Withers, Concordia’s point man on the Faubion project, acknowledges both the softball field and demolishing the church are possibilities but neither is written in stone. Nor is a combination grocery store and wellness clinic, which the university is contemplating in some renderings.

“We’re in the process of master planning now,” Withers says. “We’re a long way from definitive answers.”

The university is also some distance from delivering its end of the project’s funding. Withers says he’s confident Concordia will raise its $7.5 million share.

“We raised $14 million for our library and learning center in the depths of the recession,” he says.

PPS spokesman Robb Cowie says the School Board will be the final arbiter of what gets built with bond dollars.

But Jewett says he worries what the plan will look like when it gets to the School Board.

“I think all of us parents are grateful for the partnership with Concordia,” Jewett says. “I just think their process hasn’t been transparent.” 

 
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