Voters in February will be asked to approve a $99 million bond so the Richland School District can build two new elementary schools and replace two others to keep up with rapid growth.
Those four projects made the list the Richland School Board would like to see completed within the next three to four years.
“We’ve pared it down to the things that we believe are the highest priority and have the most need to serve the kids of our district,” President Rick Jansons told the Herald. “We also believe we need to invest in education in our community as it continues to grow.”
The board spent the past six months reviewing the district’s needs, and found it is getting about 600 more students per year, he said. That is a full school.
A fourth middle school is under construction in West Richland and the Jefferson Elementary rebuild will follow with an August 2018 opening — paid for as part of a $98 million bond approved by voters in 2013 — but the board knows new schools are already needed, Jansons said.
The board questioned assumptions on continued student growth, but it was noted that the administration worked with local economists to come up with those numbers.
The Tri-Cities remains one of the lower cost-of-living areas with jobs, and it has young families with more kids per family than the average American family outside of the region, Jansons said.
At the same time, a large number of adult children are returning to their hometown, he added.
One of the new elementary schools would be on Belmont Boulevard in West Richland on property already owned by the district. That would be near the new middle school, which has yet to be named.
“We know that those neighborhoods will fill that (elementary) school when it opens. They would fill it now,” Jansons said.
The second new elementary — called Elementary No. 12 — would be built in the area of highest growth. The district hasn’t yet settled on a location, but owns land in the Badger Mountain South neighborhood and on Dallas Road.
Badger Mountain and Tapteal are two of the oldest elementary schools and are scheduled for replacement on the long-term facility plan.
Engineering studies have shown it is cheaper to rebuild a school than to remodel, Jansons said. They would try to build the new school next to the existing school, and would design each to accommodate more students.
The home side of Fran Rish Stadium would be rebuilt, with the concrete bleachers ripped out and replaced. The locker rooms underneath the bleachers, which are prone to leaks and mold, would be relocated, he said.
Sustainable field turf would be installed at Fran Rish Stadium and Hanford High School. Hanford High also would get bleachers and restrooms at the athletic field.
Richland’s district office is in a World War II vintage building with only three working toilets, he said.
The administration building would be combined with student services and special education in a new RSD Teaching & Learning Center.
The project list also includes Jefferson Preschool, modular classrooms, and auditorium improvements at Richland High School.
With a $99 million bond request, the district would get $43 million in state matching funds under current budget formulas, Jansons said.
“It’s a little bit unusual this time, because we’re seeing accelerated growth that no one would have predicted 10 years ago,” he said.
The district is still developing the bond finance plan and determining the estimated tax rate.
Jansons thinks the bond would result in a tax rate between 30 and 35 cents per $1,000, he said. That would be about $60 to $70 per year on a $200,000 home.
Once the tax rate is finalized, an official bond election resolution will go before the board for approval to be included on the ballot.
“We’ve been good stewards of our community’s tax dollars and that will continue,” Jansons said in a news release. “We must keep up with the district’s enrollment growth and improve the facilities we already have.”