Kennewick’s next elementary school will be its largest.
The Kennewick School Board unanimously agreed this week to build the district’s 16th elementary school, located in the Clearwater Creek development in west Kennewick, with 38 classrooms, enough for 730 students.
That’s nearly double the size of most other elementary schools in the district. Sage Crest Elementary School, opening this fall, will have 26 classrooms. The rebuilt Westgate Elementary School, opening in fall 2017, will have 32 classrooms.
“It’s a big school,” said board President Dawn Adams.
Adams noted that building such a large school is counter to past board precedent to maintain small neighborhood elementary schools.
But booming student enrollment in recent years — combined with state initiatives to lower class sizes and provide full-day kindergarten — means buildings are crowded and frequently surrounded by portable classrooms. Board members said it’s better to build a school designed to handle those demands.
“We may have a desire for small schools, but population may not allow it,” said board Vice President Heather Kintzley.
The next elementary school, estimated to cost just more than $21 million to build, is in the design phase. The project is being paid for by the $89.5 million bond approved by district voters in February 2015.
We may have a desire for small schools, but population may not allow it.
Heather Kintzley, Kennewick School Board
Superintendent Dave Bond said he needed direction from the board on how large the school should be, so architects can complete drawings and the district can begin soliciting construction bids.
District administrators proposed a school with either 32 or 38 classrooms, with the top recommendation for the largest option. Those are far bigger than the traditional 22 to 24 classrooms built into elementary schools, but growth in west Kennewick, paired with a lack of other good school sites, means the next elementary school needs to be able to handle a heavy load.
Bond also noted that Kennewick is the last Tri-City district to largely stick with the small-school model. Pasco has built its last several elementary schools to handle as many as 900 students as it, too, grapples with skyrocketing enrollments. Richland built Orchard Elementary School in south Richland with 30 classrooms, enough to fit as many as 750 students.
“This reflects that trend,” Bond said.
Adams and Kintzley said they are concerned about how intimidating such a large school could be to children, particularly those in the lowest grades. But a few of the district’s schools already have that many students, such as Cottonwood in nearby Badger Canyon, despite being built smaller. Portable classrooms have helped those schools meet demand.
“We’re fooling ourselves if we’re saying we have small schools,” said board member Ben Messinger.
Board member Brian Brooks said the board’s decision doesn’t mean that all future elementary schools have to be built to the same size as the school at Clearwater Creek. And Bond said the school will likely take a few years to reach capacity after it opens.