Richland School District residents could see a bond measure of up to $86 million on the ballot in February 2013 to pay for several new schools and other projects and land.
School board members and district administrators discussed construction priorities during a work session April 13. The proposed bond is based on rough estimates for construction only. With projected state-matching money, total construction costs would come in at $138 million.
If put before voters and approved, two new elementary schools and a new middle school would be built to serve increasing enrollment in West Richland and along the Richland-Kennewick border.
It also would rebuild three elementary schools in central Richland and replace the ailing air system in Chief Joseph Middle School.
Board members are to continue discussing the projects at the next few board meetings. They acknowledged the possibility of sticker shock at the cost of the potential bond the first in about 10 years -- but nothing is set in stone.
“Once we have this plan out there, even as a very, very rough draft, there's more for the community to comment on," said board Chairman Richard Jansons.
The board has looked at a number of needed construction projects for weeks in order to address overcrowding at some of its schools but also repair aging infrastructure.
In addition to the new and rebuilt schools, the district could repurpose Jefferson Elementary School, possibly as a home for the Three Rivers HomeLink program. The school’s students would shift to the three other elementary schools in central Richland.
Those three schools -- Marcus Whitman, Lewis & Clark and Sacajawea -- would be rebuilt to accommodate as many as 600 students, more than their current capacities. All are more than 40 years old and lack amenities, such as rooms built to be computer labs, and have other issues, illustrated by a water pipe break at Marcus Whitman during spring break.
“Per building, it’s more expensive, but not in the long-term,” said board member Phyllis Strickler.
One new elementary school would be built on property on Belmont Boulevard. The second elementary and middle school would be built at sites not yet determined.
Construction costs were based on estimates of $220 per square foot to $230 per square foot and were provided by Brian Johnson, an architect and consultant to the district. He said final costs could be less but said some school districts were projecting even higher building costs.
“If the economy takes off and all the building materials go up and the contractors get busy that could reach $240 (per square foot) in a minute,” Johnson said.
Voters last approved a bond for the district in April 2003. That $79 million bond paid to remodel Richland and Hanford high schools, built Enterprise Middle School and White Bluffs Elementary School and replaced Jason Lee Elementary.
“I think a lot of people respect what we did with the last bond,” said board member Heather Cleary.
The district took several other projects, such as renovation of Badger Mountain and Tapteal elementary schools, off the table in their discussions in order to lower the amount of a possible bond. They also discussed taking off one of the two new elementary schools to further lower costs.
“I’m willing to vote on a high number as long as the money is spent wisely,” said Richland resident Ann Bird during the meeting.
* Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org