Road to new Kennewick elementary incomplete

KENNEWICK — The new Cottonwood Elementary School in the Badger Canyon area of Kennewick will be ready for students in the fall, but it appears a railroad crossing needed to provide access from East Badger Road won’t be.

That means people will have to take a longer route through the Cottonwood Springs development.

“It’s going to take a few more miles to get there,” said Doug Carl, facilities planner for the Kennewick School District.

The school still is on track to open as scheduled, he said.

The 51,000-square-foot Cottonwood Elementary has been under construction since last summer.

The plan has been for the Wiser family — which sold the district the school site and owns much of the property around it — to build a road from Badger Road up through the development. The road — called Wiser Parkway — runs parallel to Interstate 82.

It also connects to another road the Wisers are building in front of the school. Both roads are under construction now.

But there’s a key piece that isn’t — a railroad crossing and 400 feet of road around it that will connect Wiser Parkway to East Badger Road. Benton County is responsible for the 400 feet of road and BNSF Railway is providing the railroad signal.

The agreement between the county and railway for the crossing was finalized last month, said Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman. He said the railroad staff are expediting the project, with the goal of having signal and crossing guard equipment delivered to the construction site by Aug. 26 and working by late September.

In the meantime, the county is reluctant to get a jump on the road construction because BNSF requires that all construction involving its tracks and right-of-way have a flagger available 24 hours a day for trains that approach the construction zone, said Steve Becken, public works director. The railroad charges $30,000 a month for the flagging service.

“We will start when they tell us the flagger is ready. That’s when we will get the earthwork contractor out there,” Becken said.

Construction of the road also was delayed because the railroad’s cost was more than the county expected, Becken said.

County commissioners approved spending up to $500,000 for building the railroad grade crossing and the 400 feet of new road. But BNSF’s cost for the crossing was $450,000, which left too little for the new road.

Becken said the school district then offered up to $100,000 for the road project if the county would match it. The potential $700,000 should be enough to complete the job, he said.

But there is no chance the road will be ready by the start of school in September.

“Weather permitting, we could have it finished by the end of the year,” Becken said.

Kurtis Wiser said that for now his family plans to keep moving ahead with its the roads. But the family does want to see construction start on the railroad signal and county road because they’re critical to continued development of the area.

Carl said the school will be able to open without the crossing.

“Everyone is cooperating, trying to get this done,” he said.

Cottonwood Elementary is being paid for with money from a $68 million bond approved by voters last year. The bond also is paying for the remodel of several aging elementary schools in the district.

* Sara Schilling: 509-582-1402; sschilling@tricityherald.com