Richland School Board votes for new building

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 7, 2014 

Marcus Whitman Elementary

School board members gave final approval to temporarily move students at Marcus Whitman Elementary School to the old Sacajawea building so the new Marcus Whitman can be rebuilt on top of the school's present site at 1704 Gray Street in Richland.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The Richland School Board voted Tuesday to open a new building for overcrowded Three Rivers HomeLink in time for the 2015-16 school year.

There are still a lot of questions to answer, from where to build the new facility for the alternative education program, to how it will be constructed.

Opening the building by September 2015 is a goal, not a promise, board members said during a Tuesday workshop meeting.

However, all board members agreed the project needs to move forward.

"I'm very anxious for a solution," said board member Rick Donahoe. "I'm personally frustrated we haven't come up with an answer."

Three Rivers parents who attended the meeting were thrilled with the board's decision.

"As long as it meets what we need," said Sara Spencer, president of the program's parent-teacher organization.

The project, with an estimated budget of $10 million, is being paid for by a $98 million bond approved by voters a year ago. The district also will rebuild Marcus Whitman, Sacajawea and Lewis & Clark elementary schools; replace the oldest wing at Jefferson Elementary School; build a new elementary school and new middle school; replace the heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School; and make safety improvements at Fran Rish Stadium.

Plans and timelines for many of the bond projects are already in motion, but the district has yet to develop firm plans for Three Rivers and the Jefferson project. Board members had previously said it could be up to three years before either project was finished.

Three Rivers HomeLink enrolls about 400 students in grades K-12 and is growing quickly. The program leases space from Southside Church, just north of Lewis & Clark, where it is at risk of being out of fire safety compliance because of its burgeoning student enrollment.

A site for the building still hasn't been determined, though officials with the program said they'd like to remain in central Richland for families' convenience, as almost half come from outside the district.

Building near Lewis & Clark would provide continuity and allow Three Rivers to share some common space, such as a playground, said Superintendent Rick Schulte.

However, the district may have to ask the state for a waiver to build there because of minimum space requirements for schools. The non-traditional nature of the program and because most students aren't on campus at a given time could allow the district to build near Lewis & Clark, Schulte said.

"Whether that satisfies people or not, I wouldn't know until we try," he said.

The possibility of using a new modular building system also could accelerate construction.

A new system developed at Portland State University, called Pacific Mobile Systems, would cost about the same as a traditionally constructed building, but could be done quicker, be more energy efficient and be easily expanded if needed, Schulte said. He added that the buildings would be more attractive than what people usually associate with modular or portable buildings.

"I think this design is something worth pursuing," Schulte said.

Board Chairman Rick Jansons said he was concerned with making sure the district could handle planning for Three Rivers in the midst of all the other projects and meeting state requirements and standards for construction. It's also important a design team be pulled together soon to determine what Three Rivers will need in its building, from classrooms to a gym, he said.

Temporarily moving Three Rivers to the old Lewis & Clark, which is next to the site of the future rebuilt school, could be done if the project is delayed, said board member Phyllis Strickler.

Jansons and board member Mary Guay said that is a possibility to keep in mind but the board should focus on having Three Rivers' new building open in 2015.

"Moving children all over the place will be challenging as it is," Guay said.

The board is expected to continue discussing elements of the project at future meetings.

Also Tuesday:

w Board members gave final approval to temporarily move Marcus Whitman students to the old Sacajawea building so the new Marcus Whitman can be rebuilt on top of the school's present site.

The students will move there for a year, after the new Sacajawea is built nearby. After Marcus Whitman is rebuilt, its students would move back and the old Sacajawea building will be demolished.

Neighbors living near Sacajawea opposed the plan, saying it would create traffic problems but they also were upset with the design for the new Sacajawea.

The Richland Planning Commission has approved the district's plan. That decision was affirmed by the Richland City Council when it was appealed by the neighbors.

w Ty Beaver: 582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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