Work to begin next month on new Lewis & Clark school in Richland

Tri-City HeraldApril 22, 2014 

— The Richland School Board gave the green light Tuesday to the first school construction project paid for with the $98 million bond approved by voters last year.

The board awarded a $16.8 million contract to Tri-City builder Fowler General Construction Inc. to construct a new Lewis & Clark Elementary School. Work will begin in mid-May next to the current school in central Richland, which will eventually be torn down.

Two more school construction projects being paid for by the bond are expected to move forward in the coming weeks. District officials and board members said they were glad that dirt will start turning at the building sites.

“It’s good to finally get started,” Kevin Knodel, the district’s executive director of capital projects, told the Herald. “I’m anxious.”

Voters approved the bond in February 2013. Along with replacing Lewis & Clark, the bond will pay for replacing Marcus Whitman and Sacajawea elementary schools and a portion of Jefferson Elementary School, a new elementary school and new middle school south and west of central Richland, a new heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School, a new facility for the Three Rivers HomeLink program and upgrades at Fran Rish Stadium.

The district has already been working on the Chief Joseph project for months and it should be complete in time for classes in the fall. But the contract for Lewis & Clark represents the first major project to get to the building phase after months of designing and review, Knodel said.

The total cost of the project came in about $42,000 below the project’s budget. Knodel credited experts hired by the district to find building efficiencies and other areas to cut costs.

However, the savings is very small compared to the scope of the project, much lower than would usually be expected for a project this size, Knodel said.

That’s because demand for builders is high right now. Kennewick is replacing Eastgate Elementary School over the next year, while Pasco will finish a new elementary school this summer but also starts construction on two other elementary schools and a new Delta High School, the Tri-Cities’ cooperative science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, high school.

Richland’s two other school projects for the year — Sacajawea and a new elementary school in south Richland — will further tap the pool of builders available for work and possibly drive up costs.

“We’ll start getting bids from (subcontractors) outside the area,” Knodel said. “We just have to keep an eye on it.”

But after so much time spent on planning, board members and Superintendent Rick Schulte said they were just happy to know they can schedule a groundbreaking ceremony for mid-May.

“We already have the gold shovels,” Schulte said.

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

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