Parents worry about Fruitland Street school building's condition

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 8, 2012 

The first time Meagan Hopper walked into the Fruitland Street school building, she said she was in shock.

The old school building is being used to teach Cascade Elementary School students this year while Cascade's building is renovated.

The school has a minimal playground, barred windows and no exterior exits from each classroom.

Hopper said she was bothered that the school had no fire sprinklers or any exits from the library to the outside.

"It's just a little concerning," said the mother of three, all of whom attend classes at Fruitland this school year.

Kennewick School District officials said that while the Fruitland building isn't the most up-to-date facility in the district, it meets building requirements and is safe for students. It's also a critical part of the district's strategy for being able to renovate other schools quickly and efficiently.

"We've been doing this for decades," said Superintendent Dave Bond.

The Fruitland building was built in 1945 as an elementary and served in that role until 1983, when it was closed because of a population shift in the district to the west, leading to the opening of Lincoln Elementary School.

Since then, the district has used the building as swing space, moving schools in temporarily while their buildings are renovated and to house various district programs, Bond said.

Despite its frequent use in recent years, Bond said the district fields worries from parents each year. And Hopper isn't the only one voicing her concerns. She has heard parents complain while waiting to pick up her sons after school, and parents have commented on Facebook about the state of the building, including rumors that the water isn't safe to drink.

Bond and Keith Colee, the district's buildings and grounds manager, said the building must pass inspections from the city, fire and health departments and even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before it can be used. All have said the building is safe.

The building, which is shaped like a large rectangle with long corridors connecting the sections, lacks some of the modern conveniences of the district's newer buildings, such as air conditioning and sinks in classrooms. Colee said the one consistent problem he has with the building is maintaining a comfortable temperature.

"We do have a fine line we walk on turning on and off the boiler," he said.

The building hasn't gone without improvements. A new roof was installed in the past year. The school's boiler was installed in 2010 and a new water heater will be added soon. The school's formerly tiled corridors are now carpeted, cutting down noise.

Teachers and staff also have taken steps to ease the transition. There are fire drills to show students the quickest way outside. And students are taught how to play games such as hopscotch on the blacktop, though they do sometimes get some time on the grass at nearby Lampson Field.

Bond said there are other means of renovating schools, including keeping students in place while a school is worked on section by section. But not all schools can be worked on that way, nor is it the best for education.

"I'd be real hesitant to do that with our elementary kids," he said.

This is Principal Chad Foltz's fourth stint in the building, having spent time there as a student, student teacher and full-time teacher. He said he's heard the concerns but he's also heard from parents who are impressed by the building, saying it's in better shape than some schools in areas where they've lived in the South and Midwest.

Laura Hamilton attended elementary school at Fruitland back in the '70s when it was still its own school, and her father went there as well. Now her 6-year-old son Sean is there, and while she acknowledges the school doesn't have the most modern conveniences, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be used.

"It's clean, it's up to code," Hamilton said. "It's perfectly fine for kids."

Cascade won't be the last school to be temporarily housed in the Fruitland building. Lincoln Elementary will be there next year, and more schools could follow if bond measures are passed in the future to update other schools. And Colee said he's already planning the next improvements at Fruitland, including opening up the windows.

"This building, for an old building, is in pretty good shape," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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