Richland board weighs keeping school open during building projects

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 10, 2013 

The Richland School Board is considering keeping one of its old school buildings scheduled for replacement open to house students during other construction projects, including the replacement of Marcus Whitman Elementary School.

Board members authorized district officials on Tuesday to speak with Richland city and state education officials about keeping the current Sacajawea Elementary School open for several years after that school's replacement building is finished. That would allow the district to move Marcus Whitman students there as their new building is constructed.

"It would be similar to how Kennewick (School District) uses the Fruitland building," said Kevin Knodel, executive director of capital projects, referring to an old school in Kennewick used as temporary housing during school construction projects.

The idea is in the preliminary stages and the board didn't make a final decision. But district officials said using the old Sacajawea for a temporary school would allow the best siting for the new Marcus Whitman and possibly save the district in construction and operations costs.

"This would be the best long-term decision," Superintendent Rick Schulte told the board.

The district is embarking on several construction projects as part of a $98 million bond approved by voters in February. That includes replacement of three central Richland elementary schools -- Sacajawea, Marcus Whitman and Lewis & Clark.

The district planned to build the new buildings next to the present ones at each school site, keeping the old school open during construction and tearing it down once students moved into the new one.

Knodel said that won't work at the Marcus Whitman site. Material from the school that used to sit on the property is buried under the one open field on the north end of the lot. That material would have to be removed before construction could begin and that could cost up to $3 million, documents said.

Knodel and Schulte said the district also looked at siting the new building at the south end of the property but it would be cramped and the layout for parking and bus loading zones awkward.

"The best idea is to put it where the current school is," Schulte said.

Schulte said Marcus Whitman students would stay together and be bused to the old Sacajawea for a year as their old school is torn down and new one built. Knodel added the old Sacajawea could even be kept long enough to house Badger Mountain Elementary students if voters approve a potential future bond for that project.

"If we want to keep (Sacajawea) intact until 2022, we can do that, we just have to give a date (when it will be demolished)," Knodel said.

The district could save hundreds of thousands of dollars because it wouldn't have to relocate any portable classrooms under this proposal, Schulte said. There could be more savings in construction as the district could bundle Marcus Whitman with another construction project, attracting more project bidders and, possibly, competitive bids.

Schulte said having two schools operating so close to each other would double traffic in the area. That could be addressed by staggering the start times for the schools.

Board members said they were interested in the idea. Board member Heather Cleary said the proposal would keep the new Marcus Whitman near its present site, far from busy Lee Boulevard on the property's northern edge.

Marcus Whitman librarian Kim Guyette said she also was pleased with the idea.

"I only have five years left with the district and may not see it but I'd rather see that than have it at the front of the property," she said.

The district will have to receive permission from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the city to operate a temporary school building. Knodel said he just wanted to keep the option open, even though the board hasn't committed to the idea.

"I don't want to lose anymore time," he said.

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

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