Vancouver Public Schools will move ahead with plans to build scaled-back versions of two new elementary schools, rather than shelve plans to build a school on Northeast 25th Avenue in Hazel Dell in favor of a “school of choice” near downtown Vancouver.
The district announced the decision Thursday, saying the school board had directed Superintendent Steve Webb and district staff to move forward on all projects originally planned for the district’s current phase of facilities improvements.
“We want to honor the feedback from our community and complete all of the bond projects that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2017,” board President Wendy Smith said in the announcement. “We also are fully committed to being responsible stewards of the public resources entrusted to us.”
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 bond program had proposed two new elementary schools — a “school of choice” named Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts Elementary School, or VITA, at 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd., near the Fort Vancouver Library headquarters, and a neighborhood elementary school at 8614 N.E. 25th Ave., in Hazel Dell.
Increasing costs and declining enrollment since the 2017 vote had prompted the district to consider cutting the Hazel Dell school from its plans in November. The district tabled the proposal and launched a series of public forums after community members, including incoming school board members and Smith, raised questions about the process.
“After reviewing community feedback gathered from seven public forums, multiple meetings and dozens of online comments, the Vancouver school board directed Superintendent Steve Webb and his staff to move forward on all projects originally planned for the district’s current phase of facilities improvements,” the district announcement said.
The two new schools will be built to accommodate 300 students each; both campuses were originally envisioned in housing a combined 900 students. The district said they will be built with the opportunity for future expansion.
“Building each of the two new elementary schools for an enrollment of 300 students will enable both facilities to be constructed within budget while still meeting the enrollment needs of two high-growth, high-development areas in the district,” the announcement said.
The estimated combined budget for both smaller schools is $70 million, down from the original $85 million projected, according to a January estimate by the district.