Kennewick School Board gets first look at middle school plans

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 30, 2014 

A second gym. A stage for arts performances. Expanded computer labs.

The Kennewick School Board recently had its first look at preliminary specifications for the planned renovation of Desert Hills Middle School and a new middle school, all of which would be paid for by a proposed future bond.

Most of the proposed new features, which aren't in most middle schools, could raise construction costs by millions of dollars and wouldn't necessarily be covered by a state match. That prompted some board members to ask if the plans could be trimmed down.

"I'd be very leery about going much beyond state match," said board member Ben Messinger. "We can't always have everything we want."

District administrators have said they plan to place a bond before voters in about a year to pay for the middle school projects, two new elementary schools and renovating Westgate Elementary School. Early estimates show the bond would cost between $80 million and $90 million.

Changes in education are driving some of the suggestions for middle schools, said Superintendent Dave Bond.

A transition to computer-based standardized testing means more computers are needed to get testing done efficiently.

Increasing concerns about school safety means schools need dedicated space for security functions and growing demand for special education services requires more classroom space for those students.

There are also added features that would benefit students and families, Bond said. Adding a second gym space would make it easier to accommodate athletic programs, which welcome any middle-schooler who wants to play.

"It's something we committed to (program-wise)," Bond said.

A stage or similar space for the performing arts would make it easier to arrange performances rather than booking similar spaces at the district's high schools, whose facilities are already in high demand.

Some board members agreed more gym space is needed, having personally lived through getting their kids to school by 6 a.m. for practices. Many schools have multiple teams for each sport so as many students as possible can participate. That makes it difficult to schedule practice time for basketball, for example.

Space that supports extracurricular activities such as athletics and the arts is also critical to supporting academics, said board President Dawn Adams.

"The more involved a kid is, the likelier they stay in school," she said.

Adding on all the recommended features would lead to a school that has at least 112,000 square feet of space. The district's four middle schools have on average 88,000 square feet of space.

A school that large would not receive state matching dollars because it would exceed the standard size for a middle school. A second gym could add as much as $2 million to construction costs alone. And one board member expressed concerned about providing a feature that could be construed as a luxury.

"Do we have to call it a 'second gym'? I can hear my neighbor now," said board member Ron Mabry.

Messinger and Mabry said they wanted any additional spaces combined or easily convertible to other purposes. A multipurpose room could be used as gym space and for concerts, and computer labs could be converted to regular classrooms if necessary.

The board didn't vote on the specifications and there will be continued discussion at future board meetings.

Bond said there is one feature of middle schools that likely will shrink in the future: locker room showers.

"They aren't really used," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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