The Kennewick School Board hired a builder for the new home of Desert Hills Middle School and also hopes to open another new middle school six months ahead of what was originally planned.
The district will pay Fowler Construction of Richland $25.6 million to build at a new site near the intersection of 10th Avenue and Clodfelter Road.
The project is being paid for by an $89.5 million bond approved by voters in February, and the building will welcome students in fall 2016.
Board members also recently agreed to move up the bidding and construction time lines for another bond-funded middle school scheduled to be built down the street from Southridge High School.
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Construction of that school could begin in August, meaning it would open in early 2017 rather than in the fall of 2017.
Cost savings was the main motivator behind pushing the other middle school ahead of schedule but it also will benefit students, district officials said.
“If we finish it early, we don’t want it to sit there empty,” district spokeswoman Robyn Chastain told the Herald. “We want students to be able to take advantage of everything that new building will offer.”
In addition to the middle schools, the bond will pay for two new elementary schools in south and west Kennewick and replacement of Westgate Elementary School.
The bond also is expected to pay for new roofs and heating and cooling systems at several schools, technology improvements and land purchases for a future elementary school and high school.
Desert Hills is near the intersection of Kellogg Street and 10th Avenue but the board opted to rebuild farther west rather than renovate it at the current site because of the small property size and the age of the building.
Fowler is building a new south Richland elementary school and rebuilding two central Richland elementary schools for the Richland School District. The company’s bid came in $2.7 million below cost estimates for the Desert Hills project.
Included in the winning bid were some additional features, including an pottery kiln, some off-site improvements and adding an emergency power system.
The students who will eventually attend the new middle school, currently called Middle School No. 5, to be built near Southridge Boulevard and 27th Avenue will temporarily use the old Desert Hills buildings until their own building is done.
Board members and some community members have said that arrangement could lead some students to be in three different middle school buildings in three years. That could lead to resistance from eighth-graders who want to stay at their old school their last year before high school.
The district could allow those eighth-graders to finish at their current schools, but that could create student enrollment imbalances and problems for middle school athletics, district officials have said.
“Although it is not ideal to move staff and students mid-school year, it provides an opportunity for the eighth-graders in the new boundary area to experience attending the new school for half the year,” Superintendent Dave Bond said in a release.