State gives $6M for Richland elementary schools

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJuly 23, 2013 

The Richland School District will be making three of its elementary schools larger, thanks to an additional $6 million in construction dollars from the state.

The Richland School Board voted Tuesday to turn Lewis & Clark, Marcus Whitman and Sacajawea elementary schools into two-story, 65,000-square-feet buildings.

That's enough space to house 600 students at each school, up from the schools' current capacity of 450 students each.

State lawmakers approved a budget recently that called for smaller elementary school class sizes and further implementation of all-day kindergarten. Richland school officials said the district is well-poised to put those mandates into action with the state providing more money for new construction projects.

"We now have confidence that we will need the extra space," said board Chairman Rick Jansons.

The three schools in central Richland are being rebuilt as part of the $98 million bond approved by voters in February. The bond also will pay for a new elementary school in south Richland, a new middle school west of Richland, replacement of the oldest wing at Jefferson Elementary School and construction of a new home for Three Rivers HomeLink alternative school. Chief Joseph Middle School and Fran Rish Stadium at Richland High School will be improved using the bond money.

District officials have said the three central Richland schools, which are 43,000 square feet, need to be replaced. The infrastructure in the schools is failing, they lack some common amenities such as cafeterias and computer labs, and the layouts hinder teaching, district officials have said.

The plan for rebuilding the schools has been known for a while, such as building the new schools next to the old ones before tearing them down. However, the additional $6 million coming from a change in a state formula that calculates how much money districts receive for new construction projects prompted the board to adjust the plans.

The board had previously debated building the schools no larger than 58,000 square feet. However, the need to provide enough classrooms for all-day kindergarten and shrink class sizes means there needs to be four classrooms per grade level rather than the current three at those schools.

At 65,000 square feet, the three schools will be as large as the future school to be built in south Richland at Brantingham Road and Westcliffe Boulevard. They will only be slightly smaller than Jason Lee Elementary School, also in central Richland.

District officials said the advantages of building the schools larger include providing more opportunities to match students to specific teaching styles and getting full use from common spaces such as gyms, cafeterias, libraries and computer labs.

"There are some real advantages to this school size," said Superintendent Rick Schulte.

Jansons said there are also advantages to building a two-story schools. He said the cost to build a two-story school is a wash compared to building a single-story one with the same square footage, but will leave more space for playground equipment.

The two-story design also will help with the cost and logistics of rebuilding Lewis & Clark and Marcus Whitman. Jansons said the district was expecting to have to remove debris from old schools buried on those lots before building new schools but a smaller footprint of a two-story school will make that less likely.

Two-story schools will require elevators to comply with accessibility requirements with disabilities. Jansons said the costs of installing and maintaining those elevators will be negligible over the life of the schools.

Jansons said the district is running on schedule when it comes to construction timetables but he and other board members and district officials will be busy for months.

The district could have as many as four construction projects going at one time over the next two years as it works to have the three rebuilt schools and the new south Richland elementary school open by August 2015.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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