Richland's Jefferson Elementary to stay a K-5 school

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 21, 2012 

Moving boxes won't be needed at Jefferson Elementary School anytime soon.

The Richland School Board unanimously agreed Tuesday to keep the building as a K-5 school, despite original plans to turn it into a home for Three Rivers HomeLink, a growing alternative school, in a $98 million bond proposal.

Board members still have to iron out details of the decision, including determining how to ensure Jefferson will be able to accommodate its current enrollment and where to put the HomeLink alternative school.

The board is expected to review and formally approve the changes to the bond proposal during its regular meeting next week, and a few board members insisted the phrase "retain Jefferson" be explicitly stated in the bond.

"I think it's important for voters to know our intent," said board member Heather Cleary.

The meeting wasn't as heavily attended as some of the board's recent meetings about the issue. Members of the public who spoke mostly kept their comments brief, expressing thanks to the board for reconsidering their concerns about the bond proposal.

"I appreciate the time you've taken to make this bond the best bond possible," said Kylee Genetti, who has a child at Jefferson. "We will work our tails off to get this bond passed because it is needed."

Board members approved the bond for the February ballot in late August, saying it was needed to fix buildings and address growing enrollment.

The original bond proposal included: a new elementary school and new middle school to the south and west of Richland; rebuilding three central Richland elementary schools; repurposing Jefferson for HomeLink; replacing the heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School; and improving Fran Rish Stadium.

The bond came under fire in late September when Jefferson parents criticized the board's decision to no longer use the school along George Washington Way as a traditional school.

They said the district didn't fully investigate the proposal's effects and didn't reach out to community members.

After gathering and reviewing more information, board members agreed last week most of the bond proposal should remain as planned, except Jefferson should continue as a K-5 school.

However, there were disagreements about what to do with the oldest building on the Jefferson campus and where to put HomeLink. Some members of the public also questioned the need to rebuild the three other schools as large as planned if Jefferson students weren't going to end up at any of them.

The board agreed Tuesday to rebuild the three central Richland schools, though did not specify what size. Board Chairman Richard Jansons said information provided by district staff indicated the schools would need to be between 58,000 to 60,000 square feet to accommodate present needs and the possible demands of all-day kindergarten.

HomeLink would get its own $5 million facility, but the board will determine its location at a later time. The board also didn't fully resolve what it would do with the 1953 building at Jefferson, which currently houses classes but is the oldest building in the district. Board members said they were committed, however, to keeping the school's present population at Jefferson.

The cost of the bond will not change as a result of the board's changes.

"I think what you came up with is a more nuanced bond," said Miriam Gormley, who has children at Jefferson.

Board members said they were glad to hear from the public and that in the end, they could address the concerns of a few without the bond's overall benefit to the district being affected.

"This process works. It's messy sometimes," said board member Rick Donahoe. "If everybody was the same, it would be a boring place. We appreciate your ideas."

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