Relief is on the way for Tri-City school districts looking for land for new schools.
Gov. Jay Inslee has signed House Bill 2243, which lifts a restriction preventing new school buildings outside of a city’s urban growth area to connect to water and sewer services.
“This legislation was needed to allow for new schools serving a growing enrollment,” said Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte, who worked on the issue for more than a year.
Enrollment at all of the Tri-City school districts has been growing, but in many cases there isn’t available land inside urban growth areas near new housing developments.
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In fast-growing areas like the Tri-Cities, it can be a challenge for districts to find large parcels of land that are suitable for schools at affordable prices.
Randy Nunamaker, Pasco School District
The change will allow schools to be built close to where students live, Schulte said. It protects the environment, encourages walking and biking to school, and doesn’t contribute to urban sprawl.
Pasco officials are happy to hear the state is taking steps to make buying land affordable, said Randy Nunamaker, the district’s executive director of operations, said.
“The district looks forward to seeing how this new legislation will help in our efforts to address our student enrollment growth,” Nunamaker said.
Legislators thought they had a solution when House Bill 1017 passed both the House and Senate and landed on Inslee’s desk at the end of April.
The governor agreed to a section concerning the Bethel School District, but vetoed a section that would have provided relief for the rest of the districts in the state.
Inslee said the HB 1017 would have opened the door to other development outside of urban growth areas, and threatened agricultural land because it allowed utility pipes to schools to be larger than what the schools need.
He proposed a different solution, House Bill 2216, which would have allowed schools to find the acreage they need where they need it, but wouldn’t open the door to more development.
The compromise bill he eventually signed maintains the same restrictions, said Simon Vila with the governor’s office.
The result is a strong, comprehensive solution that will enable school districts to better serve students, teachers and their local communities.
Rep. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley
Rep. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, who initially sponsored House Bill 1017, was grateful for the bipartisan work in solving the problem.
“The result is a strong, comprehensive solution that will enable school districts to better serve students, teachers and their local communities,” McCaslin said. “This is the right policy for our state and I could not be more pleased by the overwhelming support the bill received.”
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, initially called for an override vote to the governor’s veto. He said the new legislation is tantamount to the same thing.
“This was a much-needed piece of legislation for education and for our children,” Klippert said. “Personally I believe everyone benefits.”
While legislators and school districts are happy about the proposal, some question the long-term effects of limiting the size of utility pipes.
Ben Volk, area manager for Kennewick’s J-U-B Engineers Inc., said from a civil engineering standpoint the solution is going to end up being an “unconscionable waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Sewer pipes are normally buried 10 to 12 feet underground and are designed to last for at least 60 years. If an 8-inch pipe is installed, when a city expands into the area around a school, the pipe will need to be dug up, or a parallel pipe installed.
“In addition, since most utilities are installed in the street right-of-way, the replacement of the undersized pipeline will require the cutting removal and replacement of asphalt,” Volk said.