Richland School Board holds back on plans for administration building

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 13, 2012 

Richland School Board members put plans for a new administrative building on hold Tuesday night so they could better understand how its construction will affect any other potential nearby building projects.

The $3 million building would be built near the current administration building and special education building at the corner of Snow Avenue and Lee Boulevard. Board member Phyllis Strickler voiced concern about how the project could affect a possible rebuild of nearby Marcus Whitman Elementary School, to which other board members agreed.

"It seems a little premature to decide where we want to set this building," Strickler said.

All the affected buildings are on a block of land bordered by Lee Boulevard on the north, Gray Street on the south, Winslow Avenue on the west and Snow Avenue on the east.

The board has discussed the new administrative building for months. It's not yet clear how the district would pay for the building, but Mark Panther, executive director of support services, said there are a number of capital funds and options the district could consider.

But the board also is looking at building a larger Marcus Whitman as one of a number of capital projects that could be paid for by a proposed $89 million bond or levy.

That would involve building a new elementary school elsewhere on the block, but space is limited. There are spots on the property filled with debris from a former elementary school before the current Marcus Whitman was built, and new construction can't be built on top of those piles because they could settle.

There are open fields at the corner of Winslow Avenue and Lee Boulevard, but Strickler said she didn't want to place the new elementary school there because of traffic issues.

Brian Johnson, an architect who has worked on the new administrative building, warned against halting the project because it could cause later delays. However, he said the district can't seek the necessary construction permits until district officials know exactly where the building is going. That means understanding the character of the whole property and knowing if more debris piles exist.

"I think, in reality, you need to do some more tests," Johnson said.

Also Tuesday:

w The board will discuss options for funding $89 million in construction at meetings in July, though board members indicated a preference to put a bond before voters rather than a capital construction levy.

The district wants to build three new schools in south and West Richland to meet increasing enrollment and refurbishment and consolidate four older schools in central Richland, as well as make other infrastructure improvements, such as replacing the heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School.

Board chairman Rick Jansons said the tax rate for a levy would be too high for most voters and the rates for a number of bonds, ranging from 15 to 25 years, were more attractive. Strickler said a few 15-year bond proposals looked promising.

w Board members unanimously rejected a book proposed for use by high school seniors in a contemporary literature class.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is a fictional coming-of-age story and involves themes such as drugs and sex. Several board members voiced reservations about the book because of its low-grade-level writing, but Strickler also took issue with its apparent intent to be used to talk about difficult issues.

"The teachers see it as an opportunity to counsel, and I don't see that as the role of our language arts department," she said.

Only two of the 15 reviews of the book by the district's instructional materials committee recommended the book. Seven of the reviews called for the board to reject it, while the others voice approval but with reservations.

The book will remain available in high school libraries, and board members said they wouldn't object to the book being used in an intervention-style guided discussion led by counselors but said the book did not belong in the curriculum.

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