In Our View: Pleasant Problem

Vancouver school officials contemplate how to use old City Hall building

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Like other school districts throughout Clark County, Vancouver Public Schools is mired in seemingly intractable financial difficulties.

Everyone knows about the massive budget challenges throughout public education these days. We suspect that awareness might be part of the reason 26 of 32 school board races on Nov. 8 ballots around the county are unopposed. Many folks are reluctant to sail the choppy seas of austerity.

But here’s one of those “pleasant problems” that might cheer up some of the administrators, parents and taxpayers in the Vancouver district. Remember that old building at 210 E. 13th St. that was vacated when Vancouver city officials moved to the new City Hall? It’s owned by Vancouver Public Schools. Suddenly the district has a comfortable list of possibilities.

Looking into the distant future, our preference would be for the old five-story building to be turned over to the private sector. Governments are well-represented in many buildings downtown, and the revitalization of the area could use a good injection of private-sector people working in buildings that produce property tax revenue.

Nothing will be decided soon, though, and in a way, that’s a good thing. Waiting until more definite direction is established in the supposed economic recovery is a wise strategy for now.

Ultimately, though, Vancouver school administrators and board members will need to decide about the building’s future, and all of the possibilities are encouraging:

Sell the building and the property, and use the profit to bolster that sagging school-district budget. Many private developers likely would welcome the chance to position businesses at the prominent corner of Mill Plain Boulevard and 13th Street near Interstate 5.

As Cami Joner reported in a recent Columbian story, several years from now — if the Interstate 5 Bridge ever gets replaced — the Mill Plain exit of the freeway could become the undisputed gateway to downtown Vancouver. A bigger, higher new bridge could minimize entries to downtown from the south, around the Sixth Street area.

The old City Hall — occupied by city workers for 44 years — could be renovated for modern business use. Or, the building could be demolished and the property used for a new structure, conceivably the headquarters for some corporation, perhaps as a center for multiple businesses.

That plan would fit in well with about $83.5 million worth of revitalization projects that already surround the site. Those projects include the $16 million, two-building Prestige Plaza apartment project at the site of the old Burgerville, the five-story Al Angelo Building (part of a $57 million, two-building complex) on Mill Plain at the freeway exit, and the $10.5 million, 2-year-old headquarters of iQ Credit Union.

Or, the Vancouver school district could decide to use the old City Hall building (or a replacement) for public education. Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, likes the idea of a science and technology high school, positioned just four blocks from the new $38 million Vancouver Community Library.

School officials say the district will spend a couple of months studying the potential of the building and the site. A recommendation will be made to the superintendent, then to the board.

Whatever choice is made months or years down the road, the old City Hall building sits there for now, reminding Vancouver school leaders that they’ve got at least one ace in the hole. Whether that card is played for profit, or for the gain of education infrastructure, it’s still a pleasant problem.