Kennewick private school moves to new site

KENNEWICK -- For years, cars rolled by a sign on West 27th Avenue in Kennewick that read, "Future home of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and School."

A decade passed, and some drivers probably started doubting the announcement.

But the future is now.

After the church moved into the large building in late 2009, students this week will follow the congregation and abandon the old school on Garfield Street for their shiny, new digs.

The move will be celebrated with a church service Sunday and a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.

Back in 1994, the church decided to move out of the buildings that had housed its services and classes since 1954, said school Principal Eric Haan.

Land was bought on West 27th Avenue soon after. But raising $3.5 million for the new building -- the private school receives no public money -- took a long time.

Church leaders finally broke ground for the new building in 2008, Haan said.

The new school has 14 classrooms, a science lab, staff offices, a conference room and a large gym. It sits on 20 acres, some of which will be turned into playgrounds and sports fields.

The old school sat on four acres. It had 12 classrooms, which were strewn across four repurposed buildings. It had no lab and offices were in converted storage rooms.

The school serves 225 students this year, one-third of whom are preschoolers, Haan said.

It has grown quite a bit since Haan took over a little more than two years ago -- the school housed 175 students then, he said.

Aside from offering religious instruction, attending a Lutheran school differs from public school life in several significant ways, said Amy Holt, admissions director.

Much emphasis is put on educating the whole child, she said.

Moral education, strong character and building leadership skills are priorities, Holt said.

"It's a real family-type atmosphere," she said.

That was evident in two recent developments.

The school puts on a big fundraising drive each fall. In the past, it had collected about $15,000 during those events, Haan said.

This year, staff set an ambitious goal -- $30,000 for playground equipment.

"Kids and their families alone raised $38,000," Haan said.

Donations from businesses brought the total to about $47,000. The school had a softball field set up far sooner than it thought it would and bought two playground structures.

The family spirit also showed when time came to move classrooms and offices. Haan hired a few professional movers for some of the heaviest office furniture.

But the lion's share -- student desks, shelves, thousands of books, and boxes and boxes of supplies -- was hauled by amateur movers.

"Everyone got together and pitched in," Haan said. "We had trucks and trailers lined up in the parking lot."

The move was finished in two days, with parents, church members and even the older elementary students pitching in.

"I don't think I would have done it any other way," Haan said.

On Sunday, a dedication service will be at 3 p.m. at the church at 2505 W. 27th Ave.

And 9 a.m. Monday, students will launch hot-air balloons made out of tissue paper during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.