Richland City Council upholds decision for temporary school operation

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldDecember 17, 2013 

The Richland City Council on Tuesday upheld a planning commission decision allowing for the temporary operation of two schools at the Sacajawea Elementary campus on Catskill Street.

The council's vote was unanimous.

It came after about a half-hour of discussion and some limited public testimony. The council could only consider information already in the record.

Councilwoman Sandra Kent said she sympathized with those who disagreed with the planning commission's decision.

But, "there appears to be adequate evidence in the record to support the planning commission's original decision," she said, echoing comments by some other council members.

Neighborhood residents who made the appeal were disappointed. Michael Rung, part of the group, said, "we want kids to have new schools," but that the school district's plan will take a toll on the neighborhood.

He said he particularly worries about traffic and pedestrian safety, and that the operation of the two schools on the same site will go on longer than a single school year.

The council's decision can be appealed to Benton County Superior Court.

The Richland School District is rebuilding Sacajawea as part of a slate of capital projects included in a $98 million voter-approved bond proposal.

The new Sacajawea building will be on the same campus on Catskill as the existing one, and Sacajawea students will continue using their old school while the new one is constructed.

Instead of then tearing the old building down at that time, the district decided it wanted to keep it open a bit longer to be used as swing space for students from Marcus Whitman Elementary, which also is being rebuilt as part of the bond.

Marcus Whitman's campus isn't configured in a way that would allow the district to keep using the old building while the new one is constructed, district officials have said.

A district official said the two schools will only operate during the same period on the Catskill campus for the 2015-16 academic year.

The Richland Planning Commission approved the district's request during a meeting in October.

It imposed some conditions, including that the two schools must have staggered start and end times, and that the district must tear down the old Sacajawea building when the new Marcus Whitman is done.

Also Tuesday:

-- The council approved giving City Manager Cindy Johnson a 2.5 percent raise and paying her a $10,000 incentive award for her quality work.

The vote was unanimous, with council members praising Johnson's efforts and accomplishments.

"We're incredibly lucky here in Richland to have such a phenomenal leader as Ms. Johnson," Kent said during the meeting.

Her base salary this year is about $153,400.

-- City officials honored Mayor John Fox, who's retiring after more than a decade on the council and many more years in local public service.

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Rose read a resolution honoring Fox, and a video played that featured clips and photos of Fox through the years and messages from other local mayors.

Kennewick Mayor Steve Young, for example, described Fox as a mentor.

Fox then addressed the crowd, saying he was fortunate to be part of the council and its work.

"One of the wisest things you can do is quit while you're ahead," he said with a laugh.

"It's time to pass the baton and turn it over to our vigorous staff and dedicated council," he said.

Fox is being replaced by Gregory L. Jones, who won election in the November to Fox's council seat.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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