Schools at the Heart of Communities: Hood River Middle School

Beyond preserving a historic treasure - Hood River Middle School enriches the town

Hood River Middle School

New building addition

  • Add space but preserve the unique character of the historic building.
Community requests:
  • Keep the school where it is.
  • Keep the trees.

Constructed nearly 80 years ago, Hood River Middle School is still one of the largest and most distinctive buildings in Hood River. Built as a high school in 1927, the brick building is unique in its formal Jacobethan (collegiate gothic) style, with gable parapets, terracotta trim, finials and arched openings -- and its spectacular views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.

The school stands as a testament to the prosperity of the 1920s, before the Great Depression and long before modernity and cost-cutting overshadowed grace in school construction of many of our schools.

Built for $155,329, the school underwent a $2.8 million remodel about five years ago that the community agrees was worth every dime.

From the original drawings of Portland architect Raymond Walter Hatch to the DLR Group’s latest additions -- the design encourages the community’s use of the facility.

“Our auditorium has long been a centerpiece for the community,” said Bob Dais, principal of the school for the past 14 years. “We’ve had everything from movies and theater productions to funerals here.”

With its classic chandeliers and WPA-era mural around the stage, the auditorium is a distinctive event venue.

When more space was needed at the school, architects designed a new building that complements the original building, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The original type of architecture would be prohibitively expensive to replicate today,” said architect Richard Higgins.

Because the old building couldn’t be replicated, architects worked to copy the elegant forms in more affordable materials. They chose a separate structure rather than an addition because, “when you’re working with an antiquated building system, the better approach is to set the new part aside,” Higgins said.

Complicating the remodeling was a late-’70s-early-’80s addition, a multi-purpose room constructed in a minimalist style that Higgins referred to as “not a sensitive neighbor.”

“Instead of tearing it down,” he said, “we covered it up.” 

Careful selection of materials and attention to proportion in the cover-up helped the new construction blend easily with the old.

Architects didn’t stop with the exterior in their efforts to tie in the new structures with the existing architecture.

“The new addition has a lunchroom where we replicated gothic arch elements from the old building, using Sheetrock instead of stone and masonry,” Higgins says. Detailed divided-light windows work well with the decorative glass in the old building.

The city’s design review board (an elected committee that oversees building improvements) played an active role in the remodeling.

Community concerns about keeping some huge old trees west of the building, for example, caused the structure to be set back slightly. The result is “a beautiful setting between the trees and the building,” according to Higgins.

The original building’s front door faced north, but access was on the south side of the building. 

“There was confusion about where to enter the building,” Higgins said. “Now a new plaza between the old and new structures draws you to the entry.” 

New areas are also accessible to disabled students and community members.

Students used to walk outside to get to the lunchroom; now they use a covered walkway. And with ample space for technology in the new building, cumbersome retrofitting of the old building was avoided.

Hood River Middle School’s location in the core of the community, adjacent to a city park and swimming pool, is one reason that about 27 percent of students walk or bike to school (compared to a national average of around 13 percent).

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