The future of Rainier School is looking safer as lawmakers cast their eyes on state facilities to downsize and close.
The 70-year-old facility, which houses about 370 adult residents with developmental disabilities on a sprawling campus in Buckley, avoided landing on either the House or the Senate’s proposals for budget cuts released Tuesday.
Lawmakers pushing against Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to shut down the facility in 2014 are glad they have been heeded so far.
“Nothing’s over until that final gavel,” said Sen. Pam Roach, an Auburn Republican who has organized residents to fight against closure.
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Another residential facility for people with developmental disabilities, Francis Haddon Morgan Center, remains threatened with closure. The Senate followed Gregoire’s lead in calling for the closure of the smaller center in Bremerton that houses people with autism.
Top Democratic leaders in the Legislature seem in no hurry to close the facilities. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said the state should eventually move people to their communities, but first should determine the needs of each resident.
The House Ways and Means Committee, in its proposal Tuesday, called for closing one residential building at Rainier School. The rest of the facility would remain open. Meanwhile, the state would study the needs of each person living at one of the state’s five residential habilitation centers.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, a Renton Democrat who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said they’re “still tussling” over the issue.
Legislators like Prentice and some advocates for people with developmental disabilities say they are best served in their homes or communities, not in institutions that hearken back to old ideas about separating disabled people from others.
“It’s the same reason we don’t have orphanages any more,” said Sue Elliott, executive director of the Arc of Washington State.
Some of Rainier Schools’ charges, though, have been there for years or decades, and family members have argued moving them would disrupt their lives.
Welch said while some developmentally disabled people thrive in their communities, some residents of Rainier School and Frances Haddon Morgan Center cannot fend for themselves outside the facilities’ gates.
“Those who are left are really the ones who need those institutions the most,” Welch said.
MCNEIL STILL FACES DOWNSIZE
The House and Senate budget plans are united on what should happen to another state facility, McNeil Island Corrections Center. Leaders in both chambers and the governor want to halve the prison’s population of 1,200 and turn it into a minimum-security lockup.
Closing down state institutions would hurt local economies as public employees lose the pay they would spend near home, said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, which is fighting to avoid layoffs by keeping facilities including Maple Lane and Francis Haddon Morgan Center open.
Rainier School’s 950 workers make it Buckley’s largest employer. If McNeil were downsized, it would shed about 250 jobs.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826