Parents and community members gathered Wednesday night at Gresham High School to look over three proposed designs and make suggestions for the dramatic remodel of the school.

“We’re designing what will be the most modern building in Gresham right now,” Michael Schaefer, principal of the 1,600 student school told the gathered residents. “This is a great opportunity to tell us what you think.”

Voters approved a $291.2 million bond in November that will pay for remodels of both Gresham and Barlow high schools and for the replacement of East and North Gresham elementary schools. Hall and Hollydale Elementary schools would get additional classrooms and all district schools are getting safety and security upgrades.

The entire Gresham High School site will be redone with the new building, but also with new traffic patterns and parking facilities. The main part of the school building, that Schaefer called “the learning tower” will rise three stories in order to pack as much classroom space on the site as possible.

“I like the way they are designing it to last,” parent Eric Lofgren said. “They are looking at maintenance.”

The current high school, dating to 1914, is a warren of hallways, some so dark and narrow as to make passing between classes virtually impossible. The campus is a hodgepodge of buildings that were constructed as five different projects over time. There are dozens of entrances to the school, making securing the building in an emergency extremely difficult.

The new building will provide larger classrooms filled with natural light and wide hallways for students to move safely and easily.

All of the three proposed designs create an inviting entrance for the public who might come to the building to see a play in the new theater, attend a meeting or go to a concert. There will also be a family-oriented center near the entrance where counseling and the school’s nine nonprofit partners, such as College Possible, will be clustered for easy, one-stop access.

The project will be tricky because much of the construction will take place while students are attending school.

“We have to look at how we disrupt our school as little as possible while we still do our most important job — teaching children,” Schaefer said.

Staff and students will have to be flexible with some temporary changes during construction, he said. For example, the theater will be torn down early in the process, so for one school year, arts performances will have to take place elsewhere, possibly at Mt. Hood Community College, Schaefer said.

There will be a groundbreaking in spring 2018, and construction will get underway that summer, when the theater will be razed.

The “learning tower” will be fully constructed in 18 months and is set to open in August 2019. The whole project is expected to be completely finished by August 2020.

But Schaefer said all the planning takes into account Gresham High’s rich heritage and place in the community.

“We want to get back to our history and pride,” he said.

The old building will be demolished, but design elements and some art and architectural features such as sculptures from the old building will be incorporated into the new digs. Architect Richard Higgins described one of the design themes, dubbed “Continuing the Tradition,” as harkening back to what the current school looks like.

That was the design favored by Lisa Lofgren.

“I like tradition,” she said. “You can’t have every building in Gresham looking the same.”

Higgins discussed another design theme, “New Vision,” a more contemporary take, and “Urban Core,” which has a more metropolitan feel.

Portland-based BLRB Architects is designing the buildings, Cornerstone Management Group is the project management firm, and Fortis Construction will execute the contracting work.

There is a survey on the Gresham High School web page for community input. Those who came to the morning or evening community sessions were invited to write comments and choose the proposed design they preferred. Students and staff will have the same opportunity.

Visit ghs.gresham.k12.or.us for more information on the proposed designs, construction schedule and bond.