No matter where you live, work or play in Vancouver, it is likely that you drive by a school at some point during your travels. Vancouver Public Schools has 37 schools and programs located within its 58-square-mile boundaries. More than 23,000 students and 3,200 employees pass through the doors of district schools every day. Countless more people attend athletic, music, theater and family activities in our schools.

Vancouver has a history of strong community support for its schools. This was especially evident during the 1990s, when the district experienced steady enrollment growth. New neighborhoods sprang up in once-rural areas, and schools throughout the district, built during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, were showing their age.

Thanks to voter approval of three bond measures in 1990, 1994 and 2001, VPS was able to upgrade and replace many of its aging schools and address issues of enrollment growth throughout the district. As a result, 18 schools were newly built or replaced between the years 1991 and 2006. Shumway Middle School was remodeled to house Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, and several other schools received upgrades ranging from new roofs to additional classroom wings.

Chinook and Roosevelt elementary schools and Alki Middle School were the first new schools to be built. They opened in 1992, more than 22 years ago. The last school to be built was a replacement Eisenhower Elementary School, which opened in 2006.

This period of renewal was an exciting time for VPS. Community and staff members, parents and students worked together to put their design stamp on their new neighborhood schools. Alumni and community members attended public ceremonies to honor the closing of decades-old schools and celebrate promising beginnings in new schools.

The planning process begins again

While much was accomplished during those 15 years of construction, many schools were upgraded minimally, and several schools weren’t updated at all.

Consider Truman, King and Peter S. Ogden elementary schools, built more than 40 years ago; Marshall Elementary and McLoughlin Middle School, built 60 years ago; or Lieser Elementary, built 70 years ago. The district also has new programs of choice. Vancouver iTech Preparatory, the district’s new science, technology, engineering and math magnet school, is housed in two different locations more than 10 miles apart.

In October, the VPS board of directors adopted a plan to review facility needs. In November, a community symposium brought together more than 70 educators, students, parents, community members and business partners to discuss how school buildings could support teaching and learning.

As they imagined the future, participants asked themselves, “How can new school facilities help prepare our students and graduates for their future?” The group brainstormed ways that school designs could help advance the district’s strategic plan in the areas of Instructional Quality, Flexible Learning Environments, Safe and Supportive Schools, Family Engagement/Family-Community Resource Centers, Early Learning and Programs of Choice.

“The Vancouver community identified 21st-century learning facilities as a strategic focus for our Design II, Chapter 2 efforts,” said Superintendent Steve Webb. “Community members indicated they want physical learning environments that support and promote 21st-century learner outcomes for students. It’s important for our community, and it’s vital for our graduates.”

Next steps

The November symposium was the beginning of a yearlong planning process to address facility and program needs. Community members are invited to share their input about VPS facilities via a survey, which will be available on the district’s website in mid-January.

Community feedback and an assessment of current school and program needs will help district leaders craft a proposal to bring more Vancouver school facilities up to 21st-century standards. If approved by the superintendent and school board, a potential bond measure could go before voters in 2016.

This and other stories originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schools.