Board to vote on new Richland middle school

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 4, 2014 

The Richland School Board will vote next week whether to build a new middle school on recently acquired land at the Badger Mountain South site along Dallas Road.

An alternative proposal discussed this week is to move sixth-graders into elementary schools to minimize middle school overcrowding.

Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler and board members Heather Cleary and Rick Donahoe are in favor of building the middle school, they said. The project is part of $98 million in planned bond improvements.

However, Cleary and Donahoe don't think it's the best location, they said.

"The bond said we'd build south and west (of Richland) and the new property fulfills that," Strickler said.

Board member Rick Jansons would rather move the sixth-graders, which would require the district to build one or two elementary schools but eliminates the need for a new middle school for 20 years, he said.

"I agree this would take hearings and some work but we should do it right," Jansons said.

Strickler moved for a board vote at Tuesday's meeting but Jansons protested. The district's meeting notice did not say the board would be voting on the matter, he said.

The district has struggled to find suitable land for a middle school for years. Two of the district's three middle schools are overcrowded and another is needed to serve West Richland and the growing south Richland suburbs.

The district recently paid $1.74 million for a 52-acre site in the northern portion of Badger Mountain South, a proposed development centered around the Interstate 82 and Dallas Road interchange. The mixed-use project will have commercial and residential properties, as well as schools and hospitals and as many as 15,000 residents.

The land purchase was approved unanimously by the board but Jansons said he envisioned using the property far in the future, once the development fills out.

That development is almost entirely empty and any students sent to a school there would have to be bused, Jansons said. Dallas Road is a two-lane road with a relatively high speed limit and it wouldn't make sense to have a middle school on the very fringe of the district.

Strickler is concerned about sticking to the bond approved by voters, which calls for a middle school, she said. Building elementary schools instead would require a hearing process that would take time and could affect the trust of district residents. Moving sixth-graders also wouldn't be the best thing to do for student development and academics.

"I'm not saying it's not possible, I'm just saying it's a poor idea," she said.

Cleary and Donahoe would rather see a middle school built closer to current populations, they said. However, Cleary also worries about going against a promise to voters and she and Donahoe also don't like the idea of moving sixth-graders.

"I've seen the criticism," Cleary said. "People don't like change."

Jansons countered that moving sixth-graders would be a wash academically and criticism of such a move is overplayed.

"I think this is an adult issue, not a kid issue," he said.

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

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