The Richland School District will move alternative education program Three Rivers HomeLink to a new building at the south end of playing fields at Jason Lee Elementary School in time for the 2015-16 school year.
School board members unanimously agreed Tuesday to move the project forward, even after hearing concerns about traffic and loss of green space from area residents.
"If this school is going to expand, we need to know the impact to Jason Lee," said resident Greg Sullivan.
The project will have a maximum budget of $5.3 million to construct a building as large as 17,000 square feet. HomeLink parents thanked the board for the months spent finding a place to build a new home for the overcrowded program.
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"I believe our kids deserve space," said HomeLink parent Jessica Levy.
A new building for HomeLink, a parent-partnership program serving 400 K-12 students, was included in the $98 million bond approved by voters in February 2013.
The school now uses space in a church near Lewis & Clark Elementary School and River's Edge High School.
The district has been struggling to find a place for HomeLink. An initial plan to move it into Jefferson Elementary School was scrapped after parents at that school protested. Building near its current location poses problems as Lewis & Clark is being rebuilt, limiting land available for construction for at least a year.
Recent board discussions have focused on open space south of Jason Lee at the intersection of Sanford Avenue and Van Giesen Street and land along Wellsian Way near the intersection with Railroad Avenue that features multiple playing fields for baseball, football and soccer.
Many have opposed moving HomeLink anywhere it would infringe on playing fields. Building at either Wellsian Way or Jason Lee likely would take away at least one playing field, district officials have said
The Wellsian Way site has further restrictions, including a well and utility easements that limit where a building could go, Knodel said.
Resident Matt O'Hara submitted a petition to the board signed by neighbors living around Jason Lee requesting HomeLink be built elsewhere. He said the green space the open field provides is important to the community and is used by numerous groups.
One neighbor said traffic is already bad at the intersection of Van Giesen Street and Sanford Avenue. Another said HomeLink's effect on the area will eventually be more than its current enrollment as it is expected to grow.
The principals of HomeLink and Jason Lee have started discussing how their schools would work as neighbors, said Jason Lee Principal Joe Jisa.
He said he's glad that HomeLink's building won't prevent his school from continuing some outdoor school activities. However, he is worried how it could affect parking and whether HomeLink students with special needs would seek services at Jason Lee and tax his school's resources.
"I just don't want to create an overload situation for our staff," Jisa said.
HomeLink parents defended the board's process, saying while Jason Lee has only been part of the discussion for about four weeks, it's spent nearly a year of trying to find a spot for the program.
Board members indicated during a special meeting last week they were leaning toward building at Jason Lee. Numerous other sites had been considered.
"This is the only (property) we have come up with that meets the needs," said board member Heather Cleary.
Board member Rick Jansons said he understands residents' concerns, as he lives three doors down from Badger Mountain Elementary School and often contends with the traffic that accompanies it.
"I don't think this is the perfect solution," he said in explaining his 'yes' vote. "But I think it's the optimal solution."
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402, firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald