Richland School board debates which students to send to new modular building

Ty Beaver Tri-City HeraldMay 27, 2014 

The Richland School District will build a modular school building on district-owned property on Wellsian Way but there's an ongoing debate about which students will be moved there.

Board member Rick Jansons was the lone vote against agreeing to the site location during a Tuesday meeting, while Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler and board member Heather Cleary voted for it. Board members Rick Donahoe and Mary Guay were absent.

The property has been suggested as a possible site for either alternative program Three Rivers HomeLink or River's Edge High School. Strickler and Cleary said the site is best suited for HomeLink based on information from district administrators. Jansons disagreed, saying he questioned the input from district officials.

"The statements in the data are anecdotal and best guesses," he said.

A new home for HomeLink, which has about 400 K-12 students, is one of the projects included in a $98 million bond approved by voters last year. The parent-partnership program uses space at Southside Church near Lewis & Clark Elementary School and River's Edge High School in central Richland but is growing and needs more room, school officials said.

The Wellsian Way site, which includes the gravel lot next to several ball fields at the bottom of Carmichael Hill, was one of four sites reviewed by the district as a future location for HomeLink. It was rated as the best site as it would not require special permission from the city to build and provided the easiest access.

The board has previously discussed constructing a modular building to finish the project in time for fall 2015. Such a structure and accompanying parking lot could be built on the site without removing any of the neighboring ball fields, said Brandon Wilm, an architect with Design West.

"It's going to be tight, it's going to be cozy, but we think it's possible," he told the board.

Board members recently discussed the possibility of moving River's Edge to the new building and HomeLink in the building used by River's Edge, as the alternative high school has stable enrollment and isn't growing.

Superintendent Rick Schulte submitted various points discussing which school to move, giving pros and cons for either, but with an overall conclusion that moving River's Edge could delay the project by as much as a year, as all initial planning revolved around moving HomeLink.

But Jansons said he wasn't convinced there would be enough space at the Wellsian Way site for HomeLink, specifically for future expansion, without affecting the ball fields. A Carmichael teacher also raised that same concern on behalf of several parents, as well as the possible loss of parking for events at Fran Rish Stadium.

Jansons also questioned the basis of some of Schulte's points, such as the possible delay in finishing the project, how much more space River's Edge would need in a new facility and potential budget implications.

The district has as much as three weeks to decide which school to move without it affecting the modular building's construction schedule, said Kevin Knodel, executive director of capital projects. However, modifications and renovations would likely then be needed at River's Edge's old building before HomeLink could move in, district officials said, a project that wasn't budgeted and could delay a move for those HomeLink students.

It is possible future expansion at Wellsian Way could end up taking away a ballfield, Strickler said, but there is no information on their level of use or how it would affect programs.

"Our field space is flexible in my mind," she said.

Jansons said he still had enough questions that he wasn't comfortable voting on the site, much less which school would be located there. Cleary said she wanted to hear absent board members before moving much further on the project.

Strickler suggested holding a special meeting next week but remained opposed to moving River's Edge.

"I do believe it will push the schedule back," she said. "I don't know how much it will push it back, but I believe it will."

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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