Catlin Gabel to create innovative east campus Middle School

An extraordinary learning environment will be created for grades 6-8, as the school advances a plan to improve the Catlin Gabel experience for every student

Catlin Gabel School has announced plans to use a recently acquired property to establish a unique campus for the school’s Middle School students. The learning environment will be designed specifically for students in grades 6-8, and customized to the needs of this age group. The campus will be distinct, but all Catlin Gabel Middle School students and teachers will continue their connection to the school’s main campus and one-school culture. The Catlin Gabel main and east campuses are about 200 yards apart.

The Catlin Gabel Middle School east campus may be opened to students as early as fall 2023, though more time may be needed to ensure that every aspect of the campus meets the school’s standards for excellence. Catlin Gabel facilities and grounds teams have already begun planning to ensure that the east campus will reflect the same beauty and functionality that characterize the main school campus.

An innovative institution from its beginnings, Catlin Gabel has always embraced deliberate, iterative improvement that helps the school meet the changing needs of students. To support expanding curriculum, the main campus has evolved over the past 60 years to include buildings designed specifically for the visual and performing arts, sciences, mathematics, modern languages, and athletics. As with all forward-thinking academic institutions, that evolution is ongoing. As Head of School Tim Bazemore says of the east campus, “The property and its academic facilities create wonderful new possibilities for how we think of curriculum, campus, and culture at Catlin Gabel.”

Head of Middle School Ted Chen is uniquely qualified to guide Catlin Gabel in this transition, having spent ten years in a leadership position at Seattle’s Lakeside School, where the middle school campus is also a few blocks from their main campus. In that environment, Ted succeeded in building a one-school culture as well as a distinctive middle school program that is now considered one of the nation’s best.

The decision to establish a new Catlin Gabel Middle School campus grew out of an extensive, deliberate process spanning five months, that began with community forums and input from students, families, teachers, alumni, and staff. The developmental needs of students were considered at every stage in the school’s analysis and the final decision. This decision also allows the school to advance its long-term enrollment growth plan that will make a Catlin Gabel education available to more students. Gradual, intentional enrollment growth will be accompanied by additional employees and resources to ensure the school sustains small class sizes and strong relationships, core elements of the Catlin Gabel mission and program. The school is working on extending the values and process applied to the recent Campus Master Plan to the site planning of the east campus, with intention to share it with the community in fall 2020.

The 8.6-acre east campus property is the site of the former Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC), a longtime Portland institution that announced its closure in January 2019. The Catlin Gabel Board of Trustees decided in April 2019 to purchase property and facilities, recognizing that the acquisition would support Catlin Gabel’s long-term enrollment and campus improvement goals, and provide students with more space and better facilities in which to learn and grow.

Catlin Gabel plans to honor the legacy of OCAC by offering community arts programs for children and adults, outside of school hours and distinct from the Middle School program. For young artists, Catlin Gabel will continue the tradition of arts-focused summer camps for children that have been offered in this space for many years. Community programs for adults will be offered in the years to come, with a starting date to be determined. To establish community partnerships that will support these programs, Catlin Gabel is in discussions now with artists’ associations, arts schools, former OCAC staff, and local elementary schools.