Truman Elementary School opened in October 1970 as an open-concept school built without permanent interior dividing walls and doors. Open-concept schools, then internationally popular in education, encouraged a less rigid style of teaching and learning—an idea reflected in the architecture.
The innovative design served Truman well for many years, including the school’s 1972 hosting of 150 students from Ogden Elementary, which was destroyed by a tornado.
However, the open-concept design no longer supports 21st-century learning or the diverse Truman population, which includes a mix of Highly Capable students, English language learners and students who are experiencing mobility. In fact, the building presents a number of challenges:
- Open concept: Without permanent interior dividing walls and doors, the staff must use bookshelves to separate spaces. Learning distractions are frequent, and noise is a constant problem. Students often wear headphones in order to block out ambient sounds.
- Overcrowding: The school was built to accommodate 450 students. It currently holds 600 students, many of whom attend class in one of the school’s seven portable classrooms. Hallways serve as storage spaces due to lack of other options. The combination gym/cafeteria is a logistical burden.
- Age: After nearly 50 years, the building has incurred wear and tear despite careful maintenance efforts. Rain falls both outside and inside the building much of the year due to roof leaks.
- Nonfunctional as a community space: Despite the school’s desire to implement a Family-Community Resource Center and strengthen its already-robust relationships with the surrounding neighborhood, Truman does not have available space to host large community groups or house items that could help struggling families, which make up 60 percent of the school’s population.
Vancouver Public Schools is addressing these challenges by redesigning the school. On April 27, staff members, parents, students and community members engaged in a symposium to discuss the future of Truman. As a result of their feedback, planning teams created four concepts.