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Vancouver Public Schools could revise its project plan, build 2 elementary schools

Vancouver Public Schools could move forward with construction of two new elementary schools, after all.

The school district announced Wednesday that it could construct the proposed downtown Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts Elementary School — nicknamed VITA, for short — and a new elementary school at Northeast 25th Avenue and Northeast 88th Street, but with smaller student bodies. The final decision will be up to the school board.

New enrollment projections by demographer E.D. Hovee and Co. show enrollment stabilizing or growing in Vancouver Public Schools. Projections suggest district elementary-school enrollment will be 10,494 by 2025, up from 10,386 students in October 2018. Overall enrollment at the school district is about 23,000 students.

To accommodate the expected enrollment while cutting into overcrowding at such sites as Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School, the district could build both schools to accommodate 300 students each, down from a combined total of 900. The estimated combined budget for both smaller schools is $70 million, down from the original $85 million projected.

Todd Horenstein, the district’s assistant superintendent overseeing facilities, noted that larger pockets of growth are expected around the proposed Hazel Dell elementary school, as well as in downtown where thousands of new apartments are under constructions.

“That’s what’s prompted this option,” Horenstein said.

Voters in 2017 approved a $458 million facilities bond for the construction of new schools and improvements at existing facilities. The district will receive another $93 million in state matching funds and grants, bringing the total construction campaign to $551 million.

The district last year considered eliminating the Hazel Dell campus from its slate of bond-funded construction, citing increasing construction costs and historically declining student enrollment. The district has seen about 7 percent in inflation in construction costs over the 5 percent for which it had initially planned.

But the district pumped the brakes on that plan, saying it wanted to collect more public feedback. New board members Kyle Sproul, Tracie Barrows and Kathy Decker also warned the district of making changes to a voter-approved list of projects.

The school board could still consider deferring either campus to later bonds, or scaling back improvements to other campuses. Alternatively, the school district could service a bank loan from the district’s general fund, which could affect the district’s credit score.

The district will continue to collect public feedback in the following series of public forums:

• 6 to 7 p.m. today, at Hazel Dell Elementary School, 511 N.E. Anderson Road, Vancouver.

• 6 to 7 p.m. Feb. 5, Harney Elementary School, 3212 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver.

• 6 to 7 p.m. Feb. 6, Eisenhower Elementary School, 9201 N.W. Ninth Ave., Vancouver.

The school board is scheduled to hold a work session on the proposals on Feb. 25, then make a decision in March.


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