District wants to build middle school in West Richland

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 24, 2014 

The Richland School District has found a place in West Richland to build its new middle school, though there are still hurdles to clear.

The school board voted Tuesday to build the school on about 30 acres just west of the intersection of Keene Road and Belmont Boulevard. The district has not yet bought the property and the price hasn't been disclosed.

The arrangement was part of a deal partially brokered by West Richland officials who are building new city workshops next to the property and have agreed to help with a zoning change, add utility connections and provide road access to get the school in city limits.

"We're really excited you've stepped up and talked to these folks and given us this opportunity," board Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler told West Richland leaders.

The district must get the land appraised, conduct a feasibility study and formalize numerous other details. It's also unclear whether the school could open on schedule for the 2017-18 school year.

"If we could be two months late and open a school in October, that would be OK," said Superintendent Rick Schulte. "But if we aim for August (2017), we'll probably not make it."

The school is included in the $98 million bond approved by voters in February 2013.

The proposal called for the middle school to be built west or south of Richland. The district has sought a middle school site for years but has struggled to find one in the right location that didn't pose problems for construction.

The district recently purchased more than 50 acres off Dallas Road in the proposed Badger Mountain South development near the intersection of Dallas Road and Interstate 82. A majority of the board sounded ready to move forward with building that school on land on Dallas Road in a proposed development, despite concerns about the remote location.

But a decision was delayed after the board was approached with another option, purportedly from West Richland.

City officials have long lobbied for more schools and facilitated a meeting between the district and property owner Harold Alexander, who owns the land next to the city shops. Alexander previously sold property on Belmont to the district that has been set aside for an elementary school.

Schulte said the new land would be a good option for a new middle school.

It would be about a mile and a half from Enterprise Middle School, which is at least five miles from the district's other two middle schools. Those two schools, Chief Joseph and Carmichael middle schools, are two miles apart.

The district must allow up to four months to have the land studied and assessed, district and city officials said. There's also no formal agreement yet with the city for utility hookups, access and irrigation. The land is a mish-mash of commercial, light industrial and residential zoning which would have to be rezoned for public use.

Mayor Brent Gerry said the project could end up saving the district lots of money if other facilities, such as bus refueling and maintenance facilities, also are built on the property. No problems are expected going forward and Gerry said West Richland residents will be excited to get another school, but that "we do have to go through a process."

A few board members were concerned about the project schedule. Board members Rick Jansons and Heather Cleary said they wanted the school to open for the 2017-18 school year, even if it means hiring more staff.

"We're going to build a middle school," Jansons said. "Let's start the (education specifications), let's do the schematic design."

Schulte said the district could move as quickly as possible but can't control all elements of the project, such as getting the necessary permits for construction.

West Richland officials said they're poised to expedite the process.

"I think you'll find we're extremely motivated to make this happen as well," said city Councilman Byron Martin.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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