Ashes to ashes, dump to dump — such is the circle of life for Portland’s West School. This derelict Libbytown landmark, originally built in 1962 on the site of a city landfill, will finally come tumbling down this spring.
West was originally an elementary school, but in its middle age it housed Portland Adult Ed and the district’s programs for kids with behavioral problems deemed severe enough to warrant separating them from the rest of the student body. The school had troubles of its own. Aside from its unpleasant location next to 1-295 on- and off-ramps, it was plagued by methane gas infiltration (an odorous legacy of the dump beneath its foundation), the roof leaked like crazy, it often lacked heat, and the yellowing opaque plastic windows created one hell of a depressing learning environment.
By July 2013, West School had become too costly to operate, maintain or repair, according to Doug Sherwood, the district’s facilities coordinator. Portland Adult Ed was moved to the Catholic Diocese of Portland’s former Cathedral School (also known as the Kavanagh School) at the foot of Munjoy Hill. The West Program for troubled youth became the Bayside Learning Community when it was relocated to the former Goodwill building on Cumberland Avenue.
When I visited last month, the only sign of activity at West School was an asbestos-abatement company’s truck in the parking lot. (City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said the building had some asbestos ceiling and floor tiles; it’ll cost about $27,000 to remove them, she said.) The school’s exterior looks shabbier than ever. The windows that aren’t that suicide-inducing yellow plastic have been boarded up, and taggers have left their mark in numerous places — including a concise “fuck” sprayed on one of the doors. The rusty flagpole out front no longer flies Old Glory. A peek inside revealed a dusty lobby strewn with tennis balls and softballs. Student desks and moldy office furniture were piled high in the hallway beyond.
Once the last of the rubble has been hauled away, the site is slated to be turned into a multipurpose athletic field, as per the master plan developed for adjacent Dougherty Field, according to Grondin. In addition, the Libbytown Neighborhood Association is exploring the possibility of establishing a community garden or “food forest” on the school’s former footprint, said LNA “convener” Zack Barowitz.
If you have fond memories of West School, better visit soon — the city expects to demolish it before the last snow melts. If you hated the place, you won’t want to miss the demolition, either.
— Patrick Banks