Richland School Board looks at fast timetable for schools

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 28, 2013 

The Richland School Board is considering an aggressive timetable for building several schools funded by a $98 million bond.

Chairman Rick Jansons said during a special board meeting Thursday he wants construction to start on a new elementary school at Brantingham and Keene roads soon so the school can open in time for the 2014-15 school year. The board has yet to officially vote on when most of the projects will begin.

District administrators and consultants said it could be difficult to move so quickly, given the time needed for designing the building, preparing the property and getting the bonds sold to finance the construction.

"There's not physically enough time to do that," said Kevin Knodel, executive director of capital projects.

However, timing will be important as the district will be looking for contractors as the Pasco and Kennewick school districts also start construction projects.

Starting on preliminary work like school designs could position the district to get the most for its money while easing crowding in schools.

"We want to have as many options available to us as possible," said Don Hammelman, a construction manager contracted by the district.

Voters approved the bond in February. It will pay for the new elementary school, a new middle school west of Richland, the rebuilding of three central Richland elementary schools, replacement of the oldest wing at Jefferson Elementary School and construction of a new home for Three Rivers HomeLink alternative school.

Also, work has already begun on safety upgrades at Fran Rish Stadium and new heating and cooling units at Chief Joseph Middle School. That is expected to be finished by mid-2014.

Building all the other projects will lead to a busy few years for the district's administrators. As many as three schools could be under construction at any given time under one proposed timetable.

Hammelman said there are contractors and builders looking for work but there will be plenty of other school construction projects on the market as well.

Pasco plans to build three schools with a $46.8 million bond over the next two years and Kennewick will possibly renovate or rebuild Eastgate Elementary School.

Jansons said he wants an aggressive building schedule partly to alleviate crowding but also to avoid increasing construction costs in the future. The district's financial consultants told the board that while interest rates are still low, they are beginning to climb because of positive economic news in recent months.

Hammelman and others said the board could get around the problems by putting each project out for bid separately, leading to more builder competition. Getting preliminary work done early, such as determining where exactly the new Marcus Whitman and Lewis & Clark elementary schools will be built on their lots, will mean the district won't have to wait for construction to start.

Knodel said that part of the problem with moving quickly is that it leaves little room to correct design problems discovered during construction. Board members said that is an important consideration but the district needs to move toward breaking ground.

"We need to move forward as quickly as we can, cautiously," said board member Phyllis Strickler.

Also Thursday:

w The district could shift as many as 123 students from Enterprise and Carmichael middle schools to Chief Joseph Middle School to ease overcrowding.

Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley presented the proposal to the board. Enterprise is estimated to have more than 1,000 students next school year and is growing by more than 70 students per year. Chief Joseph, on the other hand, is shrinking each year.

The proposal would move students living in developments along the bypass highway and at Horn Rapids to Chief Joseph. And about 10 students living near the western end of Columbia Park Trail would be sent to Carmichael.

The board is expected to consider the proposal further at its board meeting on April 10.

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