The Richland School Board unanimously voted at Tuesday night’s meeting to name its new middle school after physicist Leona Marshall Libby.
Libby was the youngest member of the team responsible for building the world’s first nuclear reactor, and helped oversee the development of Hanford’s reactors.
“She was on hand when the B Reactor shut down after being ‘poisoned’ by Xenon-135, and worked with the rest of the reactor team to resolve the problem,” according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.
She was one of four names presented to the board during its Nov. 8 meeting. The list included another figure tied to Hanford’s history — civil engineer Frank Matthias — and two names connected to the Missoula floods — Red Mountain and J. Harlen Bretz.
Board members had differences of opinion before the vote. Rick Donahoe and Rick Jansons supported the physicist and Heather Cleary and Brett Amidan supporting naming it after Red Mountain.
“I think she’s a good role model,” Jansons said.
Amidan said the process gave him the opportunity to learn about the contributions of Libby, Matthias and Bretz.
“I think they were all well-picked, but I’m with Heather though, I like Red Mountain,” he said.
Gordon Comfort was initially undecided, and decided to go with Libby after hearing from two members of the public and the school’s new principal.
One person in the audience pointed out that Red Mountain lends its name to several nearby buildings and stores, and it would be nice to have something different. Another echoed Jansons and Donahoe, saying the physicist would be a good role model for the students attending the school.
Principal Andre Hargunani said his two daughters agreed with naming the school after Libby.
District officials previously decided the school’s colors will be black and gold and are working on picking a mascot.
The new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, or STEAM, school is scheduled to open in August. The building is under construction at the intersection of Keene Road and Belmont Boulevard.
It will be the fourth middle school in Richland and was included in a $98 million bond voters approved in 2013.
People offered 102 unique suggestions for names. After receiving input from the community during a forum, a committee narrowed the recommendations.
Richland School District policy requires new schools to be named after geographic characteristics of the area surrounding the school or after “deceased persons who have achieved local or national stature from enduring contributions in the fields of education, arts and sciences, historical significance to the region, military achievements and statesmanship.”
The policy drew some criticism at a previous meeting. School board members agreed Tuesday to review the policy later.