Every school day, about 960 students at Stevens Middle School cross 24th Avenue in Pasco for their physical education class.
While the majority of campus is east of 24th, the school’s sports fields are on the other side of the road between Marie and Octave streets.
The Pasco School District has long viewed the crosswalk as a safety hazard and wants to permanently close that block of 24th. A full-size football/soccer field with an oval running track would take its place.
Students would benefit from upgraded athletic facilities and no longer face potential harm twice a day while crossing a public street for a class, officials say.
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The redevelopment project is part of the $46.8 million bond passed by voters in 2013.
The school district and the city have been working together for several years to go over plans for the site. The district needed a special permit to construct a school parking lot on North 22nd Avenue, and now is asking for approval for the remaining two phases of the project.
Kim Marsh, the district’s director of capital projects, recently updated city council members on the project details. The application process will include a neighborhood meeting, organized by the city and school district, and a hearing before the Pasco Planning Commission.
Stevens is a 1960s-era school that sits on about nine acres. The campus no longer functions adequately for today’s school needs because it is about 20 to 30 acres less than current requirements, according to a city of Pasco report.
The district has been incrementally improving the grounds with what can be called “retrofitting efforts,” explained Rick White, Pasco’s community and economic development director.
The 2013 bond included money for site design and engineering, parking and bus parking improvements, closure and redesign of that portion of 24th Avenue, and relocation and installation of the new track and sports field.
In addition to Stevens, the bond was to pay for two new elementary schools and an early learning center, improvements to Pasco High School, the relocation of New Horizons High School, and several other projects around the district. The construction was meant to ease the overcrowding affecting almost every public school in Pasco.
One of the main reasons Stevens school was included on the project list was because of safety concerns over the students crossing that road each day, Marsh said.
“We don’t have any record (of students) being injured, but we don’t know how many close calls there may have been and the clock may be ticking,” she said.
McLoughlin and Ochoa middle schools both have nicer baseball/softball fields and a track and football field for their students, he said. By taking over 24th for one block, the district believes it then can provide the same amenities to Stevens students and recreational opportunities to the entire community.
The closure would be a learning curve for nearby residents and people driving between Court and Sylvester streets, but the change in traffic should not create a significant impact to the neighborhood, Marsh said.
There are no speed limit signs on any of the three north-south roads around the campus, except for where there are designated school zones on 22nd and 24th. The Pasco speed limit on those local roads is 25 mph.
A collection of all-day traffic volumes in May 2014 by J-U-B Engineers found that just under 6,000 vehicles total travel per day on 22nd, 24th and 26th. The most traffic is on 22nd Avenue at 45 percent of total.
There would be an adjustment in a motorist’s travel route of two blocks maximum, with most of the 2,000-per-day cars that travel that section of 24th Avenue likely moving to 22nd or 26th, according to the traffic report.
The report noted the “good grid network of roadways in the neighborhood” surrounding Stevens, and found that it’s more than adequate to handle the redistribution of traffic.
Additionally, Rowena Chess Elementary School students who walk from nearby housing developments north of Marie Street will be able to get to their nearby 24th Avenue campus without having to cross in front of vehicle traffic, according to the report.
Some overhead power lines would need to be placed underground.
Other improvements include moving the bus parking on 22nd Avenue to a new loading zone north of the school in an area of the existing parking lot. The new turnaround zone would be accessed from 24th rather than 22nd.
The district bought property across the street from the school’s main entrance to provide replacement parking for faculty and staff. It also bought parcels of land at Henry Place and 24th where a couple of homes used to stand and intends to use that property for the new baseball field and some tennis courts.
If the district gets approval, the proposed schedule has engineering and design beginning in the fall, with the street closure work in the summer of 2016 and the entire project wrapping up the following summer.
Councilwoman Rebecca Francik told Marsh that “the engineer in me hates to see grids broken up,” but said it is a good project and she supports it.
Mayor Matt Watkins added that it appears the council is in favor of moving forward with the special permit process given how the middle school is outdated and in need of some expansion.