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May 25, 2022

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VPS eyes different site for downtown elementary school

The district previously announced Library Square as home for new campus; site moves east

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

Vancouver Public Schools announced Thursday that the proposed location of its downtown elementary school has moved — outside of the downtown core.

The school district announced in a news release that it was now eyeing 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd., the former site of the main Fort Vancouver Regional Library, for the kindergarten through fifth-grade campus. The district announced that it would also use the adjacent property, 1301 E. Mill Plain Blvd., which is owned by the city of Vancouver and has fields for recreational soccer, baseball and track. The campus, if built, would be across the street from Hudson’s Bay High School.

“This new preferred location for the downtown elementary school offers many benefits for our students and staff members,” VPS Superintendent Steve Webb said in the news release.

The district was initially planning to construct the campus at Library Square, the property at C Street and East Eighth Street immediately south of the Vancouver Community Library. Killian Pacific, which owns the property, had offered the district half the fair market value of the property to the district as a donation. Lance Killian, president of Killian Pacific, said the company has not rescinded that offer. Todd Horenstein, assistant superintendent of capital facilities planning for the district, echoed that the district’s relationship with the development company remains strong.

Ultimately, he said, it came down to parking. The new location offers access to surface parking, a quality the Library Square property did not have.

“Because of the limitations of the (previous) site being within the core, it pretty much necessitated underground parking,” Horenstein said. “That just didn’t seem to be in the cards at this point.”

The new elementary school campus will be a so-called “school of choice” akin to VPS’s Vancouver School of Arts and Academics or Vancouver iTech Preparatory school, with a focus on “arts and innovation.”

According to the district, working with the city and the library gives the district an opportunity to build a multi-use campus for education and community performing and visual arts. Horenstein also touted the campus’ proximity to Fort Vancouver, Hudson’s Bay High School and Clark College among its benefits.

“We’re all positioned to not only be a school but also a destination for supporting the arts,” Horenstein said.

The 40,000-square-foot library building, which houses the library’s central offices, is expected to remain on the city-owned property, while the school will be constructed adjacent to that building. VPS hopes to also use some of the space in that library building.

“That building has huge potential, quite frankly,” Horenstein said.

About 68 central administrative library employees work at the building currently, library Executive Director Amelia Shelley said. Employees who work in the downtown campus also park in the nearby parking lot. Horenstein said library staff can remain at that building, but Shelley said she’s not sure there will be enough room. Staff would have to move to a new location, as there’s not enough space in the downtown Vancouver Community Library to house the administrative offices.

But, Shelley said, “We don’t see it as a problem,” she said.

“We recognize the opportunity putting the school there gives the school district,” she said.

Futsal displacement

If construction on the school moves forward, it will displace a proposed futsal court at the site. Vancouver had previously offered the site to the Portland Timbers for Fields For All, an initiative to build courts for the soccer-lite sport throughout the Portland-Vancouver metro area.

“We will continue to look for an appropriate site for the futsal pitch and re-engage with the Timbers at the best time to re-start the futsal quest,” said Julie Hannon, the city’s parks and recreation director. “They are great partners and understand that on occasion site plans and priorities change. We look forward to future conversation with them.”

Bond measure

Voters in the district approved a $458 million bond measure last year, which included construction of the new downtown elementary school. Construction is underway on campus upgrades and rebuilds throughout the district.

Horenstein said the district hopes to approve a long-term lease with the city of Vancouver for the property within the next few months, with the campus slated to open to students for the fall of 2021. There are not yet estimates for the specific budget for this campus.

This is the third proposed location for the downtown elementary school, and the farthest from the downtown core. The district had initially proposed a new campus on Block 10, bordered by Columbia, Washington, Eighth and Ninth streets. The city of Vancouver, however, instead accepted a proposal from Gramor Development to build a mixed-use development, including a grocery store, on the lot. Construction has not begun on that project.

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