Construction ongoing at Washington State School for the Deaf

After seeking funding for new structures for more than 10 years, the Vancouver-area school will see some upgrades

Courtesy of Shauna Bilyeu

Anyone who has driven by the Washington State School for the Deaf campus off of Grand Boulevard in Vancouver over the last several months will have noticed quite a bit of construction activity going on with some of the older buildings on the campus. What some spectators may not realize, however, is just how long overdue this construction is.

“We’ve been in existence since 1886 and on this campus since 1889,” said Shauna Bilyeu, superintendent at the Washington State School for the Deaf. “The campus has morphed over time, but we have had no ‘new construction’ on campus since 2007. Our last new building was our new cafeteria that opened in 2009.”

Bilyeu said they started submitting to the state back in 2000 for funding for new structures. Since the school is a state-run school, they don’t qualify for levies and/or bonds like many of the other public schools in the area do, so in order to get funding for construction they have to request it through the state legislature.

“We had to close one building due to seismic concerns and we also retrofitted the gym, but only to the extent that it gives people time to get out if there is a seismic event,” Bilyeu said.

Courtesy of Shauna Bilyeu

In 2018, Bilyeu said they were able to have a study done to look at where the issues were with some of the older buildings, and they were able to request additional funding in 2019 to demolish four buildings on the campus – Epperson Vocational Building (facing Evergreen Boulevard), the Maintenance Building (aka “Red Barn”), the Boiler House (used to have a very tall smokestack that be seen for miles) and the old cafeteria.

Bilyeu said they were able to secure funding from the legislature to demolish these four buildings and then to also build a new K-12 academic building and a new gym. Part two of later construction/demolition will be to demolish the elementary/secondary building and the older gym. She said none of the four buildings currently being demolished were being used by the school, though Epperson was used occasionally for police training. All four of the buildings are scheduled to be demolished and the site repaved by the end of this December.

Bilyeu said they are currently in the process of selecting a design team for the new buildings, and they are hoping to begin construction on those in July of 2022, hopefully moving into the buildings by January of 2025. She said the total project cost is estimated to be $49,653,000.

“We are the heart of the deaf community,” Bilyeu said. “My goal is to make the school as open and inviting as I can. We want this to be a welcoming campus. The alumni have gone through and picked things from each building that they want to save and incorporate somehow (into the new construction). It has really been a heartfelt journey. I want the community to be proud of the school. We are serving some of the most vulnerable population, and we have a lot of outdated technology.”

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.