Jon Lobdell and his staff at Chief Joseph Middle School in Richland have a very clear understanding of the school's aging heating and air conditioning system.
"The running joke in our building is you can count on the air conditioning to kick on in November and the heat to kick on in June," said the school's principal.
The heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph was just one of the issues highlighted by Richland School District officials Thursday morning during a public facilities tour. The district is looking at constructing several new schools and rebuilding others, along with other improvements, to the tune of about$89 million, paid for either by voter-approved bonds or a tax levy.
Several parents attended the tour and said the need for new and improved facilities is clear, but added that the district is asking for a lot of money.
"In the back of my mind, (the tour) is making the case for a bond," said Elizabeth Ong Ashby, who has children in middle school and high school. "On the other hand, I know times are hard."
The district wants to build two new elementary schools and a middle school to serve south and West Richland, rebuild three of the elementary schools in central Richland, repurpose Jefferson Elementary School for other programs, replace Chief Joseph's heating and cooling system and purchase land for new schools.
District administrators detailed the issues facing the district, including overcrowding at schools outside Richland's core and deteriorating infrastructure.
Mandy Cathey, interim principal at Marcus Whitman Elementary, told tour participants of the school's troubleproviding enough computers for students, in part because there isn't enough space and the school's electrical system can't handle the demand.
The school, built in the 1960s and one of the three schools proposed to be rebuilt, was built with an open layout, so there are no individual classrooms or lunchroom.
Cathey said that has created issues for teachers, as the layout isn't conducive to current teaching methods. Kevin Knodel, director of facilities and operations, said the outside appearance of the school also is a safety issue, as it provides a lot of hiding places for children who are outside for recess.
At Chief Joseph, in addition to a failing heating and cooling system, Lobdell pointed out that there is no heating or cooling in the school's one gym, and there are issues with wireless internet connections in the building as its concrete construction blocks signals.
"This school was constructed to be state of the art in 1951," he said. "It is still state of the art for 1951."
District administrators also took the tour to Jason Lee Elementary and Enterprise Middle schools, built in the past seven years, to show how they'd like to build new schools.
Jason Lee Principal Joe Jisa said the school's gym and cafeteria/auditorium spaces are separate but can be connected for big events. Newer technology, improved infrastructure and natural light also are benefits of the new building.
Mike DePeel, treasurer for Richland Citizens for Good Schools, said the district has kept a past promise to not ask for a bond or capital levy for the past 10 years.
Still, how new construction affects people's tax rates is going to be a factor.
"I think the needs are pretty obvious to most people," he said. "I think (the issue) is going to be the price tag."
Ong Ashby said she would like the district to present all the pros and cons for a bond or levy and what it would mean to taxpayers. Shealso said she wanted to see more people attend events such as the tour, which included a little more than a dozen people.
"This is a great opportunity to be informed," she said.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org