Less than eight years after Pasco became a two high school town, Chiawana High is in need of portable classrooms to keep up with the steady growth.
The west Pasco school, with about 2,600 students, will soon get 16 more classrooms in eight portables.
The Pasco City Council unanimously approved a special permit this week to allow the buildings to cover 87 parking spaces in the northwest corner of the school’s lot. The permit is needed because the campus on West Argent Road is in a residential zone.
“I’m just astonished at the rapid growth that requires us to have to do these things,” Councilman Saul Martinez said in the meeting. He was school board president when Chiawana opened in August 2009.
“They didn’t anticipate that they would have to put in portables this early,” he added. “But this is the growing pains, this is what we go through. My hope is that we can continue to work through this and provide our kids the facilities they need and in the meantime, this is what we have to do.”
Martinez said the nearly 80-acre campus does have capacity for growth, but the district needs more time to pass a bond and all things necessary for an expansion with permanent buildings.
The district’s $69.5 million bond measure fell short of the 60 percent approval it needed to pass in the Feb. 14 election. More space is needed to house the increasing student population across the entire district, which has grown by an average of 600 students a year since 2000.
They didn’t anticipate that they would have to put in portables this early. But this is the growing pains, this is what we go through. My hope is that we can continue to work through this and provide our kids the facilities they need and, in the meantime, this is what we have to do.
Saul Martinez, Pasco city councilman
At the same time, the city’s population has more than doubled, going from 32,066 to 70,560 in 15 years.
A staff report to the Pasco Planning Commission and the city council said the school district’s enrollment is projected to hit 20,000 by 2019.
To help with burgeoning class sizes, the Pasco School Board decided in January to move 10 portables, each with two classrooms.
The project is expected to cost the district about $1 million, with the money coming from its capital facilities budget to cover construction, said district Communications Manager Shane Edinger.
The majority of the money — about $736,072 — will go to the eight portables for Chiawana. These will be the first portable buildings placed at the school.
District officials said there are 16 teachers who travel between classrooms using carts to haul their materials, and that conference rooms, offices and computer labs are being used for instruction.
The remaining $279,000 will pay to move one double portable to Frost Elementary and another to McClintock Elementary.
Space is tight at most of the elementary schools, district officials said. Frost has about 650 students, and McClintock holds 649.
The majority of the portables are coming from the district’s middle schools: three from McLoughlin; four from Ochoa; and two from Stevens.
Thirty-one portables will remain at McLoughlin, 14 at Stevens and 10 at Ochoa. District officials said space is available at the middle schools now that sixth-grade classes have been moved back to the elementary schools.
The final portable is coming from James McGee Elementary, which will still have 15 portables.
On most school days, only about 60 percent of the parking lot is used for parking. If parking ever becomes a problem in the future, there is additional land to the north that could be used to expand the parking lot.
Pasco city staff report
“Portable classrooms are a common and accepted feature of schools in Pasco and elsewhere,” said a city staff report.
The Pasco Planning Commission recommend allowing the portables, deciding they will not alter the existing character of the neighborhood.
Officials said there will be 511 open parking spaces left in the lot.
“On most school days, only about 60 percent of the parking lot is used for parking,” the staff report said. “If parking ever becomes a problem in the future there is additional land to the north that could be used to expand the parking lot.”
Unlike portables at elementary schools, the new buildings at the high school will not be supplied with water, the report said. High school students move from classroom to classroom throughout the day which allows them to use restroom elsewhere on campus.
Councilman Bob Hoffmann noted how in the 7 1/2 years since Chiawana opened, “things have changed this dramatically, and you can’t always foresee when you’re doing a plan how dramatic changes are going to be.”