Construction of the Richland School District's newest middle school could happen sooner than originally planned, and there are mixed signals about what it will cost to build it and other school projects.
The Richland School Board agreed Tuesday during a workshop to have staff develop specifications for the middle school as well as solicit architects and engineering firms to develop plans.
That could mean the school is open by August 2015, a few years ahead of initial plans and at the same time as a new elementary school, if the board moves quickly on construction.
The board also looked to keep a close eye on the money being used for the all the construction, as building costs already are escalating, though bids for similar projects outside the district are coming in lower than estimated.
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Voters approved a $98 million bond in February for the new middle school located somewhere south and west of central Richland, a new elementary school in south Richland, rebuilding three central Richland elementary schools, making safety improvements at Fran Rish Stadium, installing a new heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School, rebuilding a portion of Jefferson Elementary School and building a new home for alternative school Three Rivers HomeLink.
The projects at Chief Joseph and Fran Rish already are in progress and expected to be complete in the next year.
The new elementary, to be built near the intersection of Westcliffe Boulevard and Brantingham Road, already is in the planning stages and was expected to be one of the first large projects completed.
The middle school originally was proposed as one of the later projects, but two of the district's three middle schools are overcrowded and building it sooner would ease the problem.
The board doesn't yet have a suitable building site for the school.
"When you think about how long it takes to purchase property, we need to get moving," said Kevin Knodel, the district's executive director of capital projects.
Moving up the timeline for the middle school project is expected to help the district decide where new attendance boundaries should be. It also gives the district more time to see what will be needed for the three elementary schools scheduled to be rebuilt, such as more space for kindergartners.
"If we really do this, it gives us a year to see what the Legislature does with all-day kindergarten," said board Chairman Rick Jansons.
The finances of all the projects also had the board's attention Tuesday. Don Hammelman, a consultant for the district, laid out how construction costs already are up millions of dollars for all the bond projects only three months after the bond was passed. The amount of expected state assistance also is a bit lower than anticipated.
However, Hammelman said the amount of state assistance may go up. Knodel added that the average bid for an elementary school being built by the Pasco School District came in lower than Richland's estimates for its elementary school projects.
"We've got some pressure but we've also got some opportunities," Hammelman said.
The board is expected to continue discussions about the bond projects during its regular board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.