The Kennewick School District’s search for a spot for a new high school just got a little easier.
Buying 50 acres for the future building is a tricky proposition. The district needs land that is relatively flat and in the right location.
The problem Kennewick officials face is much of the district’s growth is in neighborhoods along Interstate 82 on the edge of the city’s urban growth area. Finding large chunks of usable land for sale was difficult.
The state Legislature agreed to lower one road block for districts that are looking to build on the edge of cities by easing a restriction on city utilities.
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House Bill 1017 just needs the governor’s signature to allow schools to connect to city water and sewer services even if they have to build outside a city’s urban growth area.
State law requires counties to set a zone, called an urban growth area, around a city to control its growth.
While schools can be built either inside or outside of these zones, many districts had to choose between building schools with septic systems and wells or finding land farther away from the neighborhoods they wanted to serve.
We were not interested in building a high school where you do not have access to city water and sewer. You can’t dig enough wells.
Dave Bond, Kennewick superintendent
While roughly 112 schools across the state use septic systems, including Kennewick’s Cottonwood Elementary School and Pasco’s Markham Elementary, a high school is too large for a septic system or well, said Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond.
“We were not interested in building a high school where you do not have access to city water and sewer,” Bond said. “You can’t dig enough wells.”
Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte said similar issues exist in the growing West Richland community, where the growth area extends in a direction where the city isn’t growing yet.
“Schools should be built in places where students can bicycle and walk to school,” he said. “That is a value that the state has advocated.”
Pasco’s Executive Director of Operations Randy Nunamaker previously said the 50 to 60 acres needed for a high school are becoming scarce.
The new bill allows the extension as long county agencies agree.
Bond said the solution is better then the current situation, but it would be better if he didn’t need to seek permission.
“It brings back into play some parcels of land that we have looked at, but we can’t be interested in anymore because we can’t get services to the land,” he said.
Schulte said it meets Richland’s needs. In a letter he sent to the governor’s office supporting signing the bill, he said district voters approved $300 million in school construction bonds in the past four years.
It brings back into play some parcels of land that we have looked at, but we can’t be interested in anymore because we can’t get services to the land.
Dave Bond, Kennewick superintendent
“Owners are willing to sell this land at suitable prices and the city and county are willing to grant building permits,” he said. “The only limiting factor is that current urban growth area rules prohibit extending municipal services ... even when such new schools would be across the street from existing schools.”
However, the Association of Washington Cities and the Washington Association of Counties were joined by Futurewise, a group dedicated to preventing urban sprawl, in testifying against the bill.
The opponents told legislators the change undermines the Growth Management Act, which was developed in ‘90s to prevent urban sprawl.
They claim school districts are simply looking to buy inexpensive rural land rather than find more expensive sites inside the urban growth area.