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Tag! Quick-Stick Start To Saving Portola Middle School History

In anticipation of the demolition of Portola buildings, volunteers made their way Friday through the abandoned old school marking items for preservation.

About a dozen people – many former students, parents or teachers – made their way through the closed campus on Friday as an early step to preserve artifacts of the school, much as was done at the old .

Moving from room to room, the team shared stories as they walked through hallways, classrooms, offices, storage areas, the gym and girls’ locker room, and examined historical treasures like lockers, fire alarms, a dumb waiter used to carry books between the first and second floors, yearbooks, student artwork, art and science supplies, and PE equipment.  

Tags were placed on items that the group would like to see preserved. Susan Wehrle, who taught art at the school for many years, pointed out several murals completed by her students.

The campus was last used by students more than a year ago. As part of a district-wide effort to upgrade schools, the West Contra Costa Unified School District originally planned to tear the school down and rebuild on the same site. However, studies revealed that a major earthquake could induce a slide on the upper portion of the site.

The district now plans to . Castro was  closed two years ago to make room for the new middle school, which is expected to be complete in about 2015. The school board decided it would be safest to move students to a temporary campus until the permanent one is ready. It opted to use portables on the lower portion of the site after strong community opposition to an earlier plan to house them in temporary buildings next to El Cerrito High.

Dates have not been set for demolition of any of the old Portola buildings, according to Andrew Mixer, bond regional facilities project manager.

In addition to allowing the archiving team to begin tagging items they’d like to see preserved and take photographs, Friday’s tour was an opportunity for Kim Butt, an architectural historian with the firm Interactive Resources, to collect information for a historical report required by the environmental impact report on the Portola-to-Castro project.

Joann Steck-Bayat, who helped lead the and is now heading up the Portola archiving project, said the group was looking for ordinary objects that students would have seen every day like the speaker boxes that broadcast announcements from the office to the classrooms and the stamp used to check out books in the library.

A set of gymnastics rings hanging from the gym ceiling warranted a tag as did a podium. A shot put ball and a rack of test tubes were also among many objects identified for preservation.

Steck-Bayat said the items will be taken to a staging area where they can be repaired, cleaned and cataloged before eventual placement in some kind of display in the new campus.

As the project progresses, more information will be distributed about what kind of help is needed and whom to contact.

Another EC Mom July 16, 2011 at 08:28 PM
Once the historic preservation is complete, I hope the district saves, sells or reuses as much as they can from this school. Keep it out of the landfill and put it to good use!
Irene Rojas-Carroll July 19, 2011 at 05:02 PM
@Another EC Mom, I agree!
Sharon Elsenpeter Russell July 22, 2011 at 05:25 PM
I went to Portola in the late 60's and graduated from ECHS in 1971. I'm sad to realize it's to be torn down. The same with the rebuilding of ECHS. But - as they say, time marches on. I moved away so many years ago that this is all news to me. I remember driving my grandchildren past both schools and saying with pride, "I went there!!".

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