Richland School Board axes building new school in West Richland

The Richland School Board agreed Tuesday afternoon to forgo building a new elementary school in West Richland to cut costs for a possible bond election this winter.

The board also decided during its special meeting to not use bond money to buy land for future schools.

That brings the proposed bond down to just under $100 million, still more than the initial estimate of $89 million the board started with.

Board members considered several options to cut the costs of bond projects, from building new schools as pre-manufactured metal buildings to slightly reducing the square footage of proposed buildings. But they decided in the end they needed to keep most of the projects to keep up with increasing enrollment and maintenance needs.

"I like the projects; I don't like the costs," said board member Heather Cleary.

The board has not yet decided to pursue a bond measure, but it has been considering about nine construction projects that need to be paid for.

Initial proposals called for rebuilding three central Richland elementary schools, building two new elementary schools in south Richland and West Richland, and a new middle school in West Richland.

Also, Jefferson Elementary School was to be repurposed, possibly for Three Rivers HomeLink; the heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School was to be replaced; Fran Rish Stadium was to receive upgrades; and new property would be bought for future facilities.

However, an expert cost estimator said all that work and property purchase would require about $116 million, not including inflation. That was an amount some board members felt voters wouldn't go for.

Superintendent Jim Busey and board member Rick Donahoe spoke with the estimator and Donahoe said he is convinced the estimates are accurate.

"I think it would be foolish on our part to cut our estimate," he said.

The board decided after reviewing enrollment projections to cut the West Richland elementary school, at least for this bond measure. Enrollment is growing fastest in south Richland and West Richland, but construction of a south Richland elementary school should allow the district to redistribute students enough to stave off overcrowding.

Taking the school off the table cuts about $20.8 million.

The board considered putting off construction of a proposed middle school, but board members Cleary and Mary Guay said that wasn't an option. Two Richland middle schools are over capacity while another almost is at capacity, and those grades -- sixth through eighth -- are growing.

Jansons said a resident suggested the district use pre-manufactured steel buildings for schools. Architect and consultant Brian Johnson said those buildings do cost less, but that the district could have problems if it wanted to later alter the outside of the building.

"They're designed to be minimal," he said. "They don't take redesign well."

District parents attending the meeting suggested the board consolidate some of the central Richland schools to save money. But board members said that they already are planning to cut out one of four central Richland elementary schools and enlarge the three other schools to handle the enrollment shift.

Busey suggested cutting the square footage in some of the proposed projects to help trim costs, but board members said they'd rather look for other project cuts before doing that.

"You'll never get square footage back," said board member Phyllis Strickler.

Board members eventually decided to cut the land purchases from the bond, trimming another $10 million.

The board will look at bond financing data at its next regular meeting Aug. 14, with a possible decision on the bond by the end of August.