They came by the tens of thousands. Families drawn to the Pacific Northwest during WWII by the promise of work in the Kaiser Shipyards and other wartime industries. As they settled in the area and raised their children, schools struggled to handle the influx of students. The original Marshall Elementary, a 1943 one-story wooden structure, held classes in shifts the first two years to accommodate all the children in the neighborhood.
The present-day school opened in 1962. It was apparent from the beginning that classroom space was scarce. The district built a new wing the following year. Portable classrooms came a few years later, and in 1992 a second building was constructed to accommodate a gym, media center and music room.
Aside from those additions, however, Marshall has neither been updated nor remodeled since 1962, despite serving tens of thousands of students in the past 54 years. This has created some significant challenges for the current student body and more than 60 staff members.
- Capacity: There is no space for small group work that would support different learning needs, much less a space where large groups can gather at once. The lack of space also means every nook and cranny is in use, including a former shower that now is repurposed as the art room. The entire female staff must take turns using a single bathroom stall.
- Age: The 54-year-old structure shows the effects of decades of natural wear and tear, such as rotting boards along the exterior hallways and a leaky roof that requires frequent patching.
To address these challenges, Vancouver Public Schools is beginning a redesign of the school.
A March 23 symposium involved approximately 70 stakeholders in a discussion about future learning needs and interior and exterior design considerations. Symposium participants included Principal Bobbi Geenty and staff; students; parents, including the Latino parent group; longtime volunteer Bill Colvin; union representatives; Dorene Brugman, Learning Avenues Child Care Centers; Sharon Linn, Vancouver Housing Authority; Brenda Harrison, WSU Extension-Clark County; and Becky Parker, SHARE.
Their feedback revealed a few key themes:
- Family and community connections: Symposium participants emphasized the need to continue to focus on families and enhance parental involvement in the school. They also advocated for more community involvement in schools so that students, staff, families and the community all benefit and have learning opportunities. Finally, participants said that schools should have a strong sense of belonging, where differences are honored and everyone is welcome.
- Adaptability to individual learning needs and future needs: From the discussion emerged the need for spaces that allow for flexibility in teaching and learning, such as spaces that can be modified for individual or collaborative work. Those in attendance at the symposium also expressed interest in a building where student-driven learning can flourish and where students can experiment and make mistakes. Comments also emphasized the need for a structure that can keep up with changes in technology and society over the next 50 years.
- Natural elements: Several participants spoke to the need for abundant fresh air and natural light, natural building elements, living walls and plants, sustainable design, recycling resources and possibly even a greenhouse.
- Safety: Participants voiced ideas about balancing safety with a welcoming atmosphere. Suggestions included the ability to secure different areas as needed without locking down the entire school.
Teams of staff members and architects met after the symposium to assess the feedback. They drafted design concepts that will be used in subsequent planning efforts.
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