Cleveland’s Building Issue History

By Kira Chan and Lainie Pennington

Cleveland celebrated 100 years in 2016 and since, perhaps as an extended anniversary present, the building, which opened its doors in 1929, has experienced a growing number of issues. Leaking pipes, peeling paint, and exposure to potentially toxic chemicals are some examples that Cleveland students regularly encounter, but in the past couple of years there have been some notable (and even legendary) events. Here is a quick rundown of them.

An eventful year for many reasons, 2016 was host to a variety of issues and scandals. In October, cracked tiles in the classroom potentially exposed students to asbestos underneath and the entire classroom had to be quarantined until repairs were made. Asbestos is an extremely toxic material once used as insulation material in buildings. It can still be found under tiles and in numerous walls and pipes around the school, and if they were to become damaged, similar action and repairs would have to be made.

On Feb. 3, Portland Mercury broke the story of alarming levels of cadmium and arsenic in the air around Cleveland and other PPS schools coming from Bullseye Glass, sending the Cleveland community into panic. However, on Feb. 5, it was announced that there were no detectable levels of arsenic or cadmium, according to tests conducted by PBS Environmental. The soil around the building did test positive, however, for high amounts of arsenic and lead.

In the spring, construction was done in the auditorium to update lighting, curtains, and rigging. The electrical equipment was originally installed in 1958 and given a 20-year life expectancy; this proved true as students were being shocked by the equipment while trying to operate it.  A portion of $10 million funded by the district in capital funding went to updating the electrical panel and operating board.

On May 23 of 2016, high levels of lead were found in the school’s water, as well as other schools in the district. As a result, all of the drinking fountains in the school were shut down indefinitely. Hundreds of plastic water bottles were distributed before the district made the shift to five gallon jugs, which still stand in the halls of Cleveland today.

The challenges continued into 2017. In the spring, trash can fires and fire drills, the result of vandalism, hit their peak. Eventually, a campus security member was stationed outside of the second floor boys’ bathroom to prevent further fires. In the midst of these fire drills, students had to evacuate due to a scare of a gas leak in the boiler room, which turned out to just be steam. On May 2, the infamous Sewage Day sent students home at 10:00 a.m. due to blockage and leaking in the main sewer line.

Complications with the facilities persevered in 2018. In January, pipes leaked in the Cleveland Mall, causing wet floors and carpets in classrooms in the cafeteria, specifically the yoga classroom located in the Cleveland Mall. The leadership storage room was stacked with desks and boxes of supplies so that nothing would touch the floor. On March 15, the water problems continued when an underground water pipe burst. The water had to be shut off on all three floors of the main building, forcing the 1600 students to use the east wing bathrooms.  Some electricity was also cut off, resulting in the elevator not operating. In addition, the Student Services Center (SSC) experienced flooding, forcing the counselors to temporarily relocate.

Some of the lesser problems are actually due to current practices conflicting with the intent of the school’s original design. For example, the bomb shelter located under the auditorium (yes, it’s real), was designed as a way to circulate cold air through the building, replacing the need for air conditioning (which the building still does not have). But the doors to the auditorium are kept shut for security reasons, limiting that circulation.

However, it is important to realize that Cleveland’s building is not inherently flawed, it is just old. “Due to the age of the building we’ve had more things break, for lack of a better phrase,” said Vice Principal Darryl Miles. “We’re fortunate that we haven’t been hit with everything all at once,” said Miles.

With Cleveland facing so many building problems, many students look to the recent modernizations of Franklin and Roosevelt High Schools and the current construction of Grant High School and wonder when our school will be next. In May of 2017 voters approved of a new $790 million bond to repair and rebuild PPS schools. Cleveland was not included on this bond, but the prior 2012 bond, $482 million, provided Cleveland with roof repairs, seismic rehabilitation, and improvements in accessibility.

It is likely that Cleveland would be considered for modernization or rebuild in an upcoming bond,” said Bond Communications Manager David Mayne. However, it would not be without some difficulty, as the building is located between Powell Boulevard and residential neighborhoods, and is home to approximately 1,600 students. “The small site makes it challenging and there would need to be a determination of where the students would be during the two to three year construction phase,” said Mayne.

As the seniors graduate in the next couple of weeks, indeed many will have fond memories of leaking pipes and fire drills. It is uncertain if the building they remember will remain as PPS begins upgrading all of their schools, but for now this is the building we have and we will continue to live with the 89 years of wear and tear that comes with it.