K-12 education: Build, rebuild, remodel – repeat?

The three biggest school districts in the Tri-Cities have a lot in common. Richland, Pasco and Kennewick each passed major bonds for new schools and other improvements in the years prior to the pandemic. In late 2022, all three were wrapping up these bond-authorized projects.

Pasco and Richland expect to ask their respective voters to authorize new bonds in 2023 to keep up with growing enrollments, particularly at the high school level.

Here is what the largest districts are working on.

Richland School District

Richland School District voters approved a $99 million bond in 2017, which leveraged $42 million in matching state funds. The last of the projects are wrapping up, said Ty Beaver, district communications director.

Fran Rish Stadium at Richland High School and the new Badger Mountain Elementary are both in use, though work crews are finishing up details.

The new Badger Mountain Elementary cost $26.8 million and was completed in the summer 2022.

The school was built on the former site of the old Badger Mountain Elementary School, 1515 Elementary Way. The new school, at 65,000 square feet, includes 28 regular classrooms; three classrooms for special education; and multipurpose, art and music spaces.

The Fran Rish Stadium updates at Richland High were complete in August, just in time for the Richland High football season opener against the Southridge Suns on Sept. 3.

The $10 million effort paid for new artificial turf, track and home-side grandstand bleachers, as well as new restrooms, locker rooms and training spaces.

Design West Architects and DA Haugen were in charge of the design. Chervenell Construction was the contractor.

The same team gave the Hanford High School athletic fields a $5.5 million upgrade, courtesy of the same 2017 bond package. Updates included artificial turf on the football field, new track surface, a 2,000-seat grandstand, new press box, restrooms and concession building. The complex got a new entrance and overall upgrades to support people with disabilities.

The project started in 2018 and wrapped up in October 2021.

Looking ahead, Richland plans to build a third high school to keep up with enrollment growth. The board was ironing out details of the package in late September and had not finalized an election date or list of projects.

The board is weighing a third comprehensive high school at a site in West Richland and expansions of its existing high schools as well as middle and elementary schools.

The district continues to grow.

In the 2021-22 school year, there were 13,700 students – kindergarten through high school seniors – in the district. The school district employed 1,700 certified and classified staff members with an operating budget of $212 million for the current school year.

Pasco School District

With 18,612 students and 2,663 employees in 2021-22, the Pasco School District shows little sign of slowing down.

To keep up, it is asking voters to approve a bond on the Feb. 14, 2023, ballot. If approved, the district will issue bonds and repay them with proceeds from increased property taxes.

The bond would fund:

  • A comprehensive high school No. 3 serving 2,000 students at Road 60 and Burns Road.
  • A small, innovative high school that would house 600 students in east Pasco.
  • A new softball field at Pasco High School.
  • Modernizing learning spaces for the career and technical education (CTE) programs at both Pasco and Chiawana high schools.
  • Purchasing land for future developments.

Like the other two major school districts in the Tri-Cities, Pasco is working on the last of its projects from the most recent bond measure, the $99 million 2017 bond.

The Transportation Facilities and Maintenance Bays project – $1.6 million for maintenance bays, $1.4 million for the transportation facility. The facility at 3412 Stearman Ave. will have 29,997 square feet of space.

Construction on Pasco School District’s $1.6 million Richard L. Lenhart Transportation
Center project at 3412 Stearman Ave. will add two pull-through bus mechanic bays and
replace the transportation office and drivers’ areas. (Photo by Scott Butner Photography)

The project will add two pull-through bus mechanic bays and replace the transportation office and drivers’ areas with a single, insulated metal building.

It also will update the current maintenance facility.

It is needed, officials say, because the district services 162 buses in three single-bus mechanic bays.

Pasco has a 47-to-1 buses-to-bay ratio, compared to Kennewick’s 25-to-1, and Richland’s 20-to-1.

The transportation office and driver facilities are currently housed in two portable buildings, and they’re undersized to house 153 staff members.

Meanwhile, the maintenance facility supports the work of 30 maintenance workers – carpenters, plumbers and electricians – and 75 custodians.

The facility has already been named the Richard L. Lenhart Transportation Center.

Pasco’s operating budget for the 2022-23 school year is $316 million.

Kennewick School District

The Kennewick School District is completing the final projects approved by voters in its 2019 bond measure.

The biggest is a total replacement of Ridge View Elementary School, 7001 W. 13th Ave. The $31 million project included tearing down the old school and replacing it with a two-story modern structure with 30 classrooms.

Chervenell Construction is the contractor.

The new school is expected to open between January and July 2024.

The bond also funded a new elementary school, but that isn’t being pursued, said Robyn Chastain, executive director for communications and public relations for the district.

“The location and timing of that project will be determined by enrollment growth and eligibility for state construction assistance funding,” she said. The cost is still to be determined.

There is one additional project ongoing that is not part of the bond funding: the Tri-Tech Skills Center project that is being called Tri-Tech East Phase 1.5.

The estimated $3.5 million project will add two classrooms with adjoining lab space and support space, totaling about 9,500 square feet.

The addition, which will be located just south of the existing Tri-Tech East building, will alleviate growing pains in its pre-veterinary technology and pre-electrical programs, providing more suitable instructional space.

The Tri-Tech campus is at 5929 W. Metaline Ave. in Kennewick. The regional cooperative school is owned by the Pasco, Richland, Finley, Columbia-Burbank, Kiona-Benton City, North Franklin and Prosser school districts. It serves as a branch campus for all the area high schools by providing CTE programs.

Site work is underway for the $31 million Ridge View Elementary School replacement
at 7001 W. 13th Ave. in Kennewick. (Photo by Kristina Lord)

Meanwhile, several Kennewick schools are eligible for state funds to assist with remodels and expansions: Highlands Middle School, Horse Heaven Hills Middle School, Hawthorne Elementary and Washington Elementary.

As for the next bond measure, that’s still undecided.

Kennewick voters twice rejected an operations levy request in 2022. The district plans to try again in 2023.

“Our first priority is to pass the educational programs and operations levy next year,” Chastain said.

The Educational Programs and Operations levy could go to voters on the Feb. 14, 2023, ballot. Operations levies fund day-to-day activities, not capital projects.

The district enrolled 18,684 students in the 2021-22 school year and employed 3,043 staff members – of which 1,334 were certified and 1,126 classified.

The operating budget for the 2022-23 school year in the Kennewick School District is $285 million.

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