Richland School Board hints at another bond if growth continues

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 18, 2013 

A West Richland resident told Richland School Board members Monday that she doesn't understand why three uncrowded central Richland schools are being rebuilt with bond money when West Richland schools are overflowing.

"Five portables are behind Wiley (Elementary School) right now and that's a terrible-looking area," Janet Carlisle said at a special board meeting at Enterprise Middle School.

Richland resident Dean Bell, however, was quick to remind her of other needs in the district.

"We're desperate for new schools," said the father of two students attending Marcus Whitman Elementary School.

Board Chairman Rick Jansons broke up the sparring and reminded those at the meeting that projects for the $98 million bond are set and won't be altered.

He and other district officials updated attendees about the projects but also dropped hints that another bond is on the horizon.

"If growth continues at the current pace, we'll need new schools in about five years," Superintendent Rick Schulte said.

Monday's meeting was arranged after Carlisle and other West Richland residents presented a petition with several hundred signatures to the board in September.

Concerns in West Richland stem from worries about busing students to schools far from their homes and that the district may not be planning far enough ahead, said Carlisle and others, including recent West Richland mayoral candidates Merle Johnson and Nancy Aldrich.

"The thing about West Richland is we're on a growth pattern," Johnson said. "In the next 4 to 5 years we'll have 100 more homes."

Jansons and board Vice Chairwoman Heather Cleary said a West Richland elementary school and a number of projects were initially planned for the bond, which voters approved in February.

The bond will rebuild three central Richland schools and part of Jefferson Elementary School, build a new elementary school and middle school in the suburbs, replace the heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School, make safety improvements at Fran Rish Stadium and build a permanent home for alternative school Three Rivers HomeLink.

To fund the district's needs beyond those projects would have cost $200 million, Jansons said. That was more than what the board thought voters would agree to, so the structural concerns of the central Richland schools and severe overcrowding in south Richland took priority. The district added 300 students this past fall compared to the previous year.

"We do a balanced look at everything," Jansons said. "All the kids are important."

There is the possibility money left over from under-budget construction bids could be applied to a West Richland elementary school, Jansons said.

And while central Richland is benefiting from the current bond more than West Richland, Bell isn't completely happy with the district.

The district is looking at temporarily housing Marcus Whitman students in the old Sacajawea Elementary School while their new school is built. That possibility wasn't disclosed during the bond campaign, Bell said.

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

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