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Tuesday, May 30, 2023
May 30, 2023

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Vancouver Public Schools’ Jim Tangeman Center an ‘inspired space’

Ceremony dedicates new facility for special needs students

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People walk through the common area of Vancouver Public Schools' new Jim Tangeman Center on Wednesday. The building, which serves around 50 students with special needs from kindergarten through 12th grade, opened on Aug. 31.
People walk through the common area of Vancouver Public Schools' new Jim Tangeman Center on Wednesday. The building, which serves around 50 students with special needs from kindergarten through 12th grade, opened on Aug. 31. (Photos by Taylor Balkom for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A crowd of educators, students and community members gathered in the courtyard of the new Jim Tangeman Center for the building’s dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday evening in Vancouver.

Located at 3200 E. 18th St. in Vancouver’s Maplewood neighborhood, the facility opened to students on Aug. 31, serving students with special needs from kindergarten through 12th grade. It replaced the Fir Grove Children’s Center.

Jim Tangeman, a career Vancouver educator and the former principal of Fir Grove, died in 2018. But his children and their extended family attended the ceremony dedicating the new building to their father.

Todd Tangeman, one of Jim’s sons who now lives in Newton, Kan., flew in for the event.

“As a family, we’re very pleased the district would choose to honor our dad in this way,” Todd Tangeman said after the ribbon-cutting. “We know that he was a lifelong career educator and his heart was for kids that needed some extra help.”

The building has several features designed specifically for its students. Each hallway has a small “focus room” that students can use. The halls are also colorful and have textured sections — something many attendees ran their hands along during the self-guided tour part of the evening. Classrooms have doors to each other that can be opened if needed. The gymnasium has a horizontal climbing wall and a half basketball court with a hoop.

One of the most notable features of the new facility is the common area. Huge windows let in natural light, and circular ring lighting fills the rest of the room with soft white light.

Lisa Packard, a kindergarten through third grade teacher at the Jim Tangeman Center, mentioned the commons first when asked about improvements over the Fir Grove Children’s Center.

“Before, we always had to eat in the classroom,” Packard said. “Now we can eat with other students and it’s more of a social event.”

Principal Jeremy Berliss also noted the commons in his address to start the dedication ceremony.

“I don’t know if you noticed the really cool lighting,” Berliss asked the crowd. “One of the young ladies helping us with the ribbon-cutting today said, ‘I feel like an angel here with my halo.’ ”

“Our students are coming in every day feeling happier because we have this great learning space,” he added.

Vancouver Public Schools Executive Director of Special Services Daniel Bettis spoke after Berliss and said anyone who visited the old Fir Grove building knows the Jim Tangeman Center is a “blessing.”

“We wanted a building early on that embraced the work we were doing with students and for families,” Bettis said. “It is an incredible building.”

VPS Board President Kyle Sproul was the final speaker and said the details of the facility were incredible.

“The natural lighting, some of the dynamic color and texture on the walls, these amazing outdoor spaces, the fact that the school is built around this open core … it’s an inspired space, for sure,” Sproul said.

“I think without the support of our community we wouldn’t have these spaces that cater to our students’ needs,” she added.

Construction for the facility was funded by voters in a $458 million bond measure in 2017.

After Sproul unveiled a ceremonial plaque that would be placed outside the building, the crowd moved to the front entrance for a ribbon-cutting featuring five students and the Tangeman family.

Todd Tangeman said after the ribbon-cutting that funnily enough, his brother Greg works for Tapani Inc., who was the general contractor for the project.

“At the time they were just building this as another project,” Todd Tangeman said. “Later he would have a part in the building of the facility that would eventually bear our dad’s name.”

“Like a Paul Harvey ‘The Rest of the Story’ segment,” he noted.

After the ribbon-cutting was done, attendees were invited to tour the building and see what it had to offer its students and teachers.

A few families gathered in Packard’s classroom and listened to calming music while talking about how much they loved the facility.

“The old (classrooms), everyone thought it looked like a prison,” Packard said. “The lighting, I can change the lighting to focus, to energize, calming, it helps with the learning. So far, it’s been a great month.”

“We’re very blessed,” she added. “I want to thank the Vancouver community for approving this and giving us this blessing.”