New high schools on the horizon for the Tri-Cities

In 10 years, the Tri-Cities could be home to two more high schools

The Richland and Pasco school districts already are studying adding another high school, while Kennewick is in the middle of a multi-year project to add space to two of its high schools.

The population at Hanford High has been growing for six years with 2,077 students enrolled this year. The school was designed for under 1,700.

And while Richland High has had a relatively steady enrollment, it still has about 40 more students then it should, say school leaders.

This fall, Pasco welcomed the largest freshman class in its history at high schools that were already crowded.

And in Kennewick, the district is adding 12 new classrooms at Kamiakin and Southridge, along with a three-year renovation project at Kennewick High.

“We anticipate that this will delay the need for a fourth high school,” said Robyn Chastain, the executive director of communications and public relations. “We are currently focused on finding property for future elementary schools.”

Richland long-range plan

Richland is just starting the process of looking at a new high school.

Leaders just finished collecting applications for a committee to help with planning the next 10 to 20 years worth of construction projects.

Along with examining the needs for River’s Edge alternative high school, HomeLink and the two existing high schools, the committee is planning for another high school, including putting together cost estimates.

While the school board will have final approval, the report will recommend a timeline for when the district should put bond measures on the ballot for voters. The report is expected by June 2020.

The only certain item about a new high school is the 70 acres the district could put it on.

In 2016, the district bought property near the intersection of Belmont Boulevard and Keene Road. The land is next to Leona Libby Middle School.

Belmont property
The Richland School District bought property at Belmont Boulevard and Keene Road for a future high school. Courtesy Richland School District

While district leaders have talked about asking voters to approve a bond as early as February 2021, there are still a lot of variables that could affect that, said Ty Beaver, the district’s communication director.

“That would be potentially the earliest a bond can go, but there is no date set in stone, or even in sand, at this point,” Beaver said.

Twelve community members will be joined by two board members, six teachers, the superintendent, the deputy superintendent and other administrators.

The school board also is in the process of picking an architect to help with the planning.

The planning is getting started just as the district is working on the last batch of buildings included in its 2011 plan, said Beaver.

A $99 million bond is paying to replace two elementary schools and build two more, along with a host of other improvements.

Pasco working on plan

A Pasco high school planning task force is moving into its third month of meetings.

The group of community members and school district staff meet twice a month, and have taken tours through area high schools, as well as going to visit schools in Yakima and Wapato.

They have to go outside of the area to find new high schools because along with being the largest high school in the state, Chiawana High in Pasco is also the newest in the Tri-Cities.

Chiawana building front.jpg
Chiawana High School in Pasco. File Tri-City Herald

The task force’s nine-month mission is to shape what could be inside and outside a new high school. It’s looking at everything from the number of science labs to how the parking lot could be laid out.

The initial estimates have about 2,000 to 2,500 students attending the third high school.

The architects and district are planning for a high school that can handle students for the next 50 years.

While the task force shapes what the school will look like, the school board is looking at when they should ask voters to approve a bond. The district’s long-range plan calls for an election in 2020, but the school board is still considering that.

If it’s approved the building would open its doors in 2023, and have enough students to fill the building,

Superintendent Michelle Whitney said it is possible the board could put a bond measure on the February 2020 ballot, but it might be better to wait until later in the year when a design is in place.

“It would give an opportunity to have real and robust and relevant interface with our community, and also give us the education specifications so when we’re doing projections for costs we would have a better set of data to do that,” she told the school board during a September study session.

While the last bond measure was successful, it only passed by seven votes. This followed a failed bond in February. Since 1991, the district has asked voters to approve 11 bonds, and four of them have failed. Two of those failures happened in the past 10 years.

The architects have a communication plan in place, and are hoping the task force process will build excitement in the community for a new high school.

“That gives us an opportunity to be in front of you as a board with regular updates and to engage our community,” Whitney told the board recently. “It also gives us a chance to communicate with the community as a whole that is our intent.”

New Kennewick classrooms

With the rebuilt Kennewick High School slated to open in 2021, and 12-classrooms being added to both Southridge and Kamiakin, district leaders don’t expect to need a new high school for more than a decade.

The renovations are coming as part of a $125 million bond approved by voters in February 2019.

Kennewick High project
Heavy equipment moves debris and dirt while masonry workers build a section of the new Kennewick High School building. Watch videos at: Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald file

The new Dayton Street building will provide more than enough space for the 1,600 to 1,700 students at the school. The expansions at Southridge and Kamiakin will make enough space for the students currently enrolled.

As of June 2019, Kennewick High had the most portable classrooms with eight portables and Southridge and Kamiakin had two each.

The school district is focused on finding space for its elementary students with a new school sometime between 2022 and 2025, with a replacement for Ridge View Elementary expected in August 2024.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.