No progress made on fate of Richland alternative schools

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 3, 2014 

The Richland School Board is no closer to a decision on the future of two alternative schools despite a two-hour discussion Tuesday and plenty of public input.

The board requested more reviews of open land at Jason Lee and Lewis & Clark elementary schools as they consider where to place either Three Rivers HomeLink or River's Edge High School.

The district will ask its property broker to recommend any new land purchases that could accommodate one of the programs. Board members also asked staff to forward any "outside-the-box" ideas.

"As far as I can tell from the board's discussion, everything is on the table," said Superintendent Rick Schulte.

Some HomeLink parents and educators criticized the board for taking this long to find a way to meet their cramped program's need for space. Others blasted a recent board proposal to move one of the schools to a lot on Wellsian Way that is currently a parking lot but could lead to sacrificing adjacent playing fields.

Some board and community members agreed on one thing -- decision is needed soon.

"I agree we need thoroughness but we also need swiftness," said Jessica Levy, a HomeLink parent.

Providing more space for HomeLink, a K-12 parent-partnership program with about 400 students, was included in the $98 million bond approved by voters more than a year ago. The program currently uses space in a church near Lewis & Clark school and near a modular building used by River's Edge.

The board recently decided to move either program to the lot on Wellsian Way at the foot of Carmichael Hill, where a modular building would be built. If River's Edge was moved, HomeLink could move into the alternative high school's former building.

River's Edge Principal Dan Chubb said he was originally opposed to the idea of his program moving but further review shows it would provide more benefits than problems. It also would better serve HomeLink to stay near Lewis & Clark, said HomeLink teacher and parent Trevor Macduff.

But others attacked the idea at Tuesday's meeting. A few HomeLink parents said they felt they were promised a new building in the bond and that they and their children are treated as second-class citizens and only receive "hand-me-downs."

Others said the Wellsian Way site is too small and the program needs room to grow.

"Putting a modular building on a dinky little spot doesn't look like we're being invested in, it feels like we're being shoved somewhere," one parent said.

Some parents and boosters said the Wellsian Way gravel lot is used frequently by people visiting Fran Rish Stadium or using nearby playing fields for practice.

"I know there has to be other places, there has to be other options," said a Richland High School student who plays lacrosse.

Both groups also weren't excited about a proposal from Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler and board member Mary Guay to possibly move HomeLink to a new building that could be built on Van Giesen Street near Jason Lee, again because of space constraints and the loss of play fields.

Board member Rick Jansons suggested HomeLink could temporarily move into the old Lewis & Clark building after its vacated and the new one, currently under construction, is occupied. District officials shot that idea down, saying the building permit is contingent on the old school's demolition once the new one is finished.

Jansons also urged the board to take time to thoroughly review any decision on the future of the programs, even if it means that HomeLink won't have more space in time for fall 2015, the original deadline. However, others on the board said they wanted to move quickly to meet the deadline.

"What is most important is to have HomeLink in a new home by September 2015," said board member Heather Cleary. "It's important we keep that promise."

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

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