Having waxed poetically the other day about a proposal to develop Block 10 in downtown Vancouver, we would be remiss to ignore the other idea that has been presented to city leaders — a downtown elementary school built by Vancouver Public Schools.
As part of a $458 million bond request that was approved by the public last month with 70 percent of the vote, school officials hope to create a magnet school near the downtown core. The plan, for now, is a school of arts and innovation serving students from kindergarten through fifth grade. And while we believe that a proposal for an apartment building and full-service grocery store would be the best option for Block 10 — an empty lot bordered by Eighth and Ninth streets between Columbia and Washington — a downtown elementary school also has merits and should be pursued at another site.
As Todd Horenstein, assistant superintendent, told The Columbian: “We’re wanting to capitalize on the creative economy that’s emerging in the downtown core area.” Therein lies one of the project’s strongest selling points. Multiple studies have demonstrated the importance of creative, innovative businesses in producing a flourishing downtown, and Vancouver has worked to embrace that philosophy in recent years. The establishment of a school that ties into that ethos would be sensible.
The selling points, however, don’t end there. They extend to a desire to create a diverse downtown, a desire to strengthen Vancouver Public Schools, and a need to position the district for the future.
With new residences being planned for the nearby waterfront and likely at Block 10, the presence of a downtown school would help entice families who have young students to live in the area. Drawing a diverse population will help strengthen the downtown area and encourage a variety of commerce and amenities.
For the school district, a K-5 school focusing upon arts and innovation would dovetail nicely with the successful Vancouver School for Arts and Academics, which serves students in grades 6-12. That facility, a public school run by the district, was established in 1996 at 31st and Main. It was an early example of the district’s desire for specialty schools, a desire that has been manifested more recently by the creation of the Vancouver iTech Preparatory School, a middle school and high school focusing on science and technology education; and by Vancouver Flex Academy and the Lieser Campus, which provide nontraditional educational options.
Through it all, the district has prepared itself for the current debate over school choice, which was at the forefront of last year’s presidential election and is a key element of the Trump administration’s agenda. Many people, particularly conservatives, long have complained about one-size-fits-all education and have sought to provide parents with options. An arts and innovation magnet school would further expand the opportunities available throughout Vancouver Public Schools.
Developing a downtown elementary school will not be easy. Three factors typically prevent the establishment of schools in the heart of a city: The high cost of land, a dearth of available land, and a lack of local grade-school-age students. District officials must ensure that the costs represent the best use of taxpayer dollars, but creating a magnet school that can draw from the entire district would mitigate the population concerns.
In the end, a downtown elementary school is an intriguing idea worthy of consideration.