2 Richland schools will wait about 3 years to get into new buildings

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 22, 2013 

It could be about three years before two Richland schools are in new buildings paid for by a $98 million bond.

A new facility for the alternative program Three Rivers HomeLink and replacement wing for Jefferson Elementary School would open for the 2016-17 school year under a timeline proposed by Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte at Tuesday's board meeting.

The Richland School Board did not take formal action on the proposal and board members and Schulte said there are a lot of unanswered questions. However, they will revisit it at a future meeting.

"I'm very much in favor with getting on with this," said board member Rick Donahoe.

Voters approved the bond in February. Along with HomeLink and Jefferson, the bond also is paying for a new elementary school and middle school, three rebuilt elementary schools, safety improvements at Fran Rish Stadium and a new heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School.

The district already has done some work on most of the other projects. Schulte said his conversations with parents and staff at HomeLink and Jefferson show they're anxious to have their projects start.

"They want to know they're not being left out and not being forgotten," he said.

Schulte proposed putting both projects out for bid together in mid-2015. About $9 million total is budgeted for the projects. He also recommended HomeLink be located next to a district school to provide enough space and to share common space such as playgrounds.

The district had looked for property for HomeLink -- currently housed at Southside Church near Lewis & Clark Elementary School -- without much success. At Jefferson there are questions about how the new wing would be incorporated into a future construction project that would replace the rest of the school.

Board members generally approved of Schulte's proposal, but said they were concerned that perhaps the projects weren't being built large enough. Schulte had recommended the 15,000-square-foot Jefferson wing be replaced with a similar sized facility, while HomeLink be moved into a 13,500-square-foot building.

"I see (HomeLink) growing substantially and we need to give them room to grow," said board member Phyllis Strickler.

Schulte said he could give the size of the projects a combined range of square footage, from 26,000 square feet to 34,000 square feet. He also said the district could apply about $1.8 million meant to buy land for HomeLink to the projects, adding up to 8,000 square feet total.

Also Tuesday:

w Board members approved the basic prototype design for the three central Richland elementary schools being rebuilt but not without some concerns and criticism from residents.

The plans call for two-story buildings to replace Lewis & Clark, Sacajawea and Marcus Whitman elementary schools. The new buildings will be constructed next to the old schools, which will be demolished when the work is complete.

The district is looking to keep the old Sacajawea open for an extra year to house Marcus Whitman students, who will need to have their school demolished before construction.

Residents living near Sacajawea told the board it needs to consider the traffic issues that will result from two schools operating so close together. John Cox of Richland was especially critical of the design and reasoning for building a school that has an estimated life of several decades.

"I don't think anyone else around town can afford to renovate their houses every 30 years," Cox said.

Cox also asked why the district settled on the presented design and not one that perhaps put a level of the building below ground, preserving the view neighbors currently have.

"Personally, I wouldn't want my third- and fifth-graders going to school in a basement," Jansons said.

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

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