Early-childhood education center being considered for Kennewick

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 27, 2013 

KENNEWICK -- The Kennewick School Board is considering building an early childhood education center to ease crowding in some of its elementary schools.

Board members agreed this week to have district administrators research building the center on property near the district's administrative offices and Amistad Elementary School.

The building would serve students in the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or ECEAP. Rough estimates place the cost to build at $3.5 million to $4 million.

There were concerns about building a facility strictly for preschoolers. Superintendent Dave Bond and other school officials said such a center would help the district handle the likelihood of continued growth and the push by state education officials for all-day kindergarten in the next few years.

"We've never had to add so many kindergarten sections like we did this year," said Greg Fancher, assistant superintendent for elementary education.

The state wants to implement all-day kindergarten statewide by the 2017-18 school year. Currently, only five Kennewick elementary schools have all-day kindergarten.

Converting the remaining elementaries to all-day kindergarten would require the district to add at least 16 classrooms. Bond said the district likely will convert two schools, possibly more, to all-day kindergarten next school year.

"We're going to have to start accounting for it," he said.

There's also a high number of elementary-age children in the neighborhoods east of downtown Kennewick, many of whom come from low-income families served by ECEAP. The district receives about $1.4 million for the program.

Bond said building an early childhood learning center near Amistad could help with crowding as it would free up seven classrooms, most of them in schools around downtown. The superintendent proposed a building with 12 classrooms and some office space -- large enough to accommodate the program's 222 students with room to grow.

The half-day program provided by ECEAP means the district would not have to build spaces commonly seen in other schools, such as a full cafeteria and gymnasium, or rooms dedicated to music and art.

Board members had some concerns, such as traffic access issues that already exist at nearby Amistad, and how parents would react to possibly busing their preschoolers. Bond said any review of the proposal could include looking at resolving traffic problems. And he said some ECEAP students already are bused.

Board member Ron Mabry said he'd like to see a dual-use facility that included ECEAP and kindergarten students. Bond said that arrangement could be difficult, because any building with kindergartners would need classrooms, as well as those extra spaces that preschoolers don't need.

District administrators are expected to report back on their findings on the proposal this spring.

* Also this week:

Board members agreed to buy up to 16 new portable classrooms for next school year at a cost of $1.25 million.

The portables are needed at several of the district's elementary schools. The district already has 34 portables being used by elementary students, either as regular classrooms or as space for other programs and education specialists.

Board members said they were concerned about the growing use of portable classrooms and wondered if it would be better to add onto existing schools.

"It scares me that we're becoming portable dependent," said board member Ron Mabry.

Other board members said it's meant as a short-term solution, and while having students in portables isn't ideal, students still receive a quality education.

"I don't think it's a travesty to have elementary students educated in portables," said board member Heather Kintzley.

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