Still no decision on relocating Richland schools

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 10, 2014 

The Richland School Board postponed decisions Tuesday night on where a new middle school could be built and an alternative K-12 school could be relocated.

The delay is to consider new building sites. Three out of five board members have said they are willing to build the middle school in a proposed development on the edge of the district. Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler tabled the topic, though, saying there were "new developments."

The board briefly discussed where Three Rivers HomeLink could be moved, including property on Wellsian Way or next to Jason Lee Elementary School. That conversation was halted because of a pending report on properties that could be purchased for the project.

The district has scheduled an executive session this evening to discuss real estate. Another public special meeting is scheduled for noon June 17 for the board to possibly make decisions regarding HomeLink and the middle school project.

However, district officials said a decision is needed immediately to ensure HomeLink is moved in time for the 2015-16 school year.

The delay also exasperated several HomeLink parents, who said they appreciated the board's care with the project but that the project has to move forward.

"I'll pack this room with HomeLink families if I have to get this done," said Sara Spencer, HomeLink's acting PTO president.

Discussions regarding HomeLink and the middle school have been ongoing for weeks. Both projects are included in the $98 million bond approved by voters last year.

The district recently purchased 52 acres in the Badger Mountain South development. Despite concerns about the site's current remoteness, Strickler and board members Rick Donahoe and Heather Cleary said the new middle school should be built there -- soon -- as it is needed.

However, Superintendent Rick Schulte said a community member recently approached the district about a possible location for a middle school. While substituting a new site so late in the process could lead to delays, Schulte said it's worth considering.

"It's not something I could exclude right off the bat," he said after the meeting.

HomeLink currently uses about 8,000 square feet of space in a church near Lewis & Clark Elementary School and River's Edge High School in central Richland to work with about 400 students.

The board has discussed building a new modular structure for the school at Lewis & Clark, near playing fields on Wellsian Way or elsewhere for some time. However, all those possibilities pose problems or face opposition from the public and the district is up against its specified timeline.

Despite that concern, board member Rick Jansons urged patience in settling on HomeLink's future home.

"I would rather take the time and carefully evaluate all the options," he said.

Jessica Levy, another member of HomeLink's PTO, told the board she understands Jansons desire for caution. However, she and other parents want to at least some progress and discussion so that they have a better understanding of what's being considered.

"We need to have some urgency," she said.

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

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