This bond measure dates back to 2008, when current and former students; employees; parents; and community, agency and business leaders came together to help Vancouver Public Schools craft a new strategic plan. That plan, called Design II, prioritized prekindergarten education, high-quality teaching, digital technology tools, family involvement, safety, positive school climates and programs that help students discover their unique talents and interests.
While VPS has made gains in those areas during the past eight years, the district’s existing facilities do not accommodate all of the goals outlined in the plan. For example, lack of space due to overcrowding prohibits some schools from fully establishing Family-Community Resource Centers to increase family involvement and support families. In other schools, space constraints mean that not every interested student can participate in certain programs.
The plan to replace, expand or upgrade every school in the district has been developed over the past two years with what’s best for students in mind. Thousands of people—students, parents, family members, employees, board members, volunteers, community members and district partners—have provided input through numerous surveys, meetings and open houses.
The state of Washington acknowledges that a new school should be constructed when the cost of remodeling a school approaches 80 percent of the cost to replace the facility.
Each of the schools targeted for replacement has multiple needs. Upgrading building systems; expanding facilities for enrollment growth; remodeling spaces to accommodate current technology and teaching and learning needs; and replacing worn-out finishes will exceed 80 percent of the cost to replace each school.
On average, new construction provides a 40 percent longer building lifespan than remodeling. For these schools, some of which were built in the 1940s and ’50s, rebuilding has been determined to be a better long-term investment.
If voters approve the bond measure that will appear on the ballot in the Feb. 14, 2017, special election, the district would be eligible for an estimated additional $50 million in state funds. The district can qualify for state assistance only if local voters approve the bond measure.
The district already has received a $43 million grant from the state to support class-size reductions. Those funds will be used to build and expand kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. The funds cannot be used to purchase or lease portable classrooms. The grant is contingent on the district matching a portion of the amount, which VPS did by applying reserve funds, typically used for emergencies. If local voters approve the proposed bond measure, the reserve funds will be restored.
With new construction, the district is able to schedule multiple projects simultaneously, thereby minimizing the effects of inflation. The district also can save costs by purchasing construction materials and furnishings in quantity.
If the district had decided to remodel, students would have been required to attend other schools in the district, and/or they would have been housed in portable classrooms during the remodeling time frame. The district would have had to rent a significant number of portables. The average cost to lease one portable for one year is between $8,000 and $9,000. Funds to cover the cost of renting portables or transporting students to other locations would need to come from the district’s operating budget.
With local voter approval of a construction-funding bond measure, more Vancouver students would be able to participate in the district’s magnet programs, which help students pursue their interests and talents.
Take Vancouver iTech Preparatory, for example. This magnet school for students in sixth through 12th grades focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. It was one of seven schools to receive Washington state’s Innovative Schools designation for 2016, and in November 2015 the school was the reason for VPS being honored with District Administration magazine’s District of Distinction award.
With space constraints at iTech’s two locations more than 10 miles apart, not everyone can attend iTech. The school currently serves about 370 students. On average, nearly 200 students are on a waiting list for admission.
If voters approve the bond measure this February, the district would have funds to build a single, consolidated building for iTech Prep on the Washington State University campus. The building would accommodate an estimated 700 students.
Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, ranked 11th in the state and 620th in the nation in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report, also would be expanded. Like iTech Prep, VSAA has a waiting list for admission. This secondary school receives between 500 and 600 applications each year. Due to the size of the building, it can accept only 100 to 120 students. The bond measure would provide the space for approximately 200 more students, as well as arts opportunities for students all over the district.
The award-winning Columbia River High School, home of the district’s International Baccalaureate program, would gain space for an additional 200 students, as well as other upgrades.
Those aren’t the only schools that would be affected, however. Every school in the district would be upgraded with funds from the bond measure.
Vancouver Public Schools works to maintain a stable tax rate:
Some 23,500 students fill Vancouver Public Schools’ classrooms, cafeterias, sports fields and gyms every day. But after school and during evenings, weekends and summers, another population moves in: the greater community.
Concerts, basketball games, public forums, meetings, soccer games and other activities bring thousands of people onto school grounds. In 2016, the district signed more than 3,200 contracts for the use of its facilities with both external groups and internal groups, which are given first priority.
One external group is the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, which has long used Skyview High School’s auditorium and other venues such as the Royal Durst Theatre at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.
Said the symphony’s executive director, Igor Shakhman, “Skvyiew’s auditorium is a great concert hall for VSO’s performances. It is acoustically superior to any other performance venue in this area. The size of the auditorium is perfectly suited for our performances.”
While VPS must charge a rental fee due to state mandates against public use of district funds, the rates are competitive. District-sponsored activities are not charged a fee.
Although after-hours use compounds the wear and tear that buildings receive over the course of their lifespan, district leaders believe in giving the community an opportunity to use the infrastructure it supports and funds through bond measures.
Said Marla Wood, manager of the community services department, which handles rentals, “Our facilities reflect an important investment in schools. We want the community to have an opportunity to use them.”