Despite the pandemic, the Mid-Columbia’s school districts and schools – grades Kindergarten through 12, as well as higher education – plowed ahead to build, rebuild and remodel schools and support facilities.
From a recently opened Kennewick High School, which cost over $100 million, to $30 million buildings at both Columbia Basin College in Pasco and Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland, this region is still high on education construction.
The Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts are winding down the projects funded by bonds approved by voters in recent years.
It won’t be long before all three consider new bond measures to meet the needs of the area’s ever-increasing student and teacher populations.
Here is a look at what is going on:
The Kennewick School District’s most recent official numbers for 2020-21: 18,539 students.
Robyn Chastain, executive director of communication and public relations, said that while official enrollment numbers aren’t complete, “I can tell you that we are not seeing a significant change at the elementary numbers. At the secondary level we are more optimistic that enrollment will increase compared to last school year.”
The district had 1,189 classified staff and 1,325 certificated staff last school year.
The district’s operational budget for the 2021-22 school year is $292 million.
The biggest school project in Kennewick and the region was the renovation and remodel of Kennewick High School. The project was approved by Kennewick voters in the 2019 bond, and cost $109.5 million. State matching funds supported the project.
The 292,000-square-foot building opened to students in August.
In addition, Southridge High School students were greeted with a $25 million addition of 30,000 square feet for new classroom space and athletic facility improvements. Kamiakin High School students benefited from a $17 million facelift that added 23,000 square feet of new classroom space and athletic facility improvements.
When it’s all said and done, all three high schools should hold 2,000 students each.
Technically, though, the projects aren’t all completed, with some minor work needing to be finished.
“(They’re) not considered officially complete at this time,” said Chastain. “We have a conditional certificate of occupancy for the three projects and there is still some work to be completed.”
The $10.8 million Tri-Tech Skills Center expansion project was completed in November 2020, with 16,000 square feet of classroom space added.
In addition, the 2019 bond allows for replacing Ridge View Elementary school, expanding it from 20 classrooms to 30.
“Design West has been selected to design Ridge View Elementary,” Chastain said. “The design process is starting this fall and continuing through spring 2022. The tentative date for completed construction (of the $23 million project) is December 2023.”
The last part of the bond is a plan for the district’s 18th elementary school. Chastain said that depends on enrollment growth.
“At this time, the district would need to see a significant increase in elementary enrollment during the next several years to be eligible for state construction assistance funds,” said Chastain.
As for the next bond, a timeline has not been determined.
“There is no firm date to run the next bond measure,” said Chastain. “Potential projects and availability of the state construction assistance funds will be evaluated over the next few years to determine if 2025 or a later date is appropriate to run a bond measure.”
The Richland School District has 13,739 students and 920 certificated staff, which includes teachers, school nurses, librarians and counselors.
The district’s operational budget is $203 million for the 2021-22 school year.
Ty Beaver, the district’s director of communications, said it is still working on projects funded by the 2017 voter-approved bond.
Last October, staff moved into the $11.6 million Teaching, Learning and Administration Center in West Richland.
The building has 41,000 square feet that includes office space for six district departments, school board meetings and three classrooms.
The Richland High School Auditorium renovation project, which cost $7.7 million, was completed in July 2021.
The improvements include new seating and a re-arranged layout, an improved stage area, additional restrooms, a new roof and improved access for people with disabilities.
Construction crews also are nearing the end of the $6 million Hanford High School athletic fields project.
The project updated and enhanced athletic fields at Hanford High for physical education classes, marching band practices, team practices and games.
That included installing artificial turf, resurfacing the track, adding a 2,000-seat grandstand with a press box, a new building with restrooms and concessions, a new venue entrance and improved accessibility.
That project is expected to be completed in October 2021.
Then work will get going on the $10 million Fran Rish Stadium upgrades over at Richland High School.
The project will include updating and enhancing the field and home side bleachers of the stadium.
That will include new artificial turf, a resurfaced track, new home side bleachers, restrooms, locker rooms and training spaces.
The permitting process will start in winter 2021, while construction will run from spring through summer 2022. The project is scheduled for completion in August 2022.
The construction of the new Badger Mountain Elementary School on its former site started in late August 2021.
The new school should be 65,000 square feet, and will include 28 regular classrooms and three classrooms for special education classes, a multipurpose space, library, art and music spaces, gymnasium and a playground.
The 2017 bond supports a 12th elementary school, but no decision has been made about where and when it will be built.
Beaver said there is no set timeline yet for the next bond, but the district is reconvening its capital facilities committee to chart a course to a bond request as early as 2022. Its charge includes considering the need for a third high school.
“District leaders are in the midst of reviewing current facility needs and are looking for community members who have the time to dedicate to the Facilities Planning Committee and give input to the process, and craft a recommendation for future construction to the Richland School Board sometime in the coming months,” he said.
The most recent enrollment figures for the Pasco School District for the 2021-22 school year show 18,393 students.
The breakdown is 8,080 elementary students, 4,408 middle school students and 5,905 high school students.
Shane Edinger, director of public affairs, said the district has an estimated 2,200 total employees, and about 1,200 certificated employees. Its general fund budget for 2021-22 is about $289 million. The general fund covers operating costs but not capital projects.
Only one project is left in the bond approved by voters in 2017 – a maintenance bay for the transportation and facilities departments.
That originally called for $1.6 million for two new maintenance bays for Pasco’s 162 school buses, as well as another $1.4 million for improvements on the transportation facility.
Both are needed. Pasco has a 47-to-1 bus-to-bay ratio. Kennewick’s is 25-to-1 and Richland’s is 20-to-1.
The maintenance facility needed an update to a building that helps 30 maintenance workers and 75 custodians.
The concept is being retooled. In December 2020, the Pasco School Board approved partnering with the Finley School District on a transportation cooperative. The state Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office signed off in January.
Edinger said there are many benefits to the co-op.
“A transportation cooperative will allow for 90% of the eligible costs of construction to be covered by (the state),” he said.
It also results in a larger department facility to alleviate space constraints for all staffers, the full remodeling of the shop space to increase the number of service bays, and helps the Finley School District too, Edinger added.
The design development process for the transportation is complete. Construction is expected to begin in fall 2021, with completion expected with a year.
The 2017 bond, coupled with state matching funds, paid for the $28.5 million Columbia River Elementary School, which opened in September 2020; the rebuilding of the $39.7 million ($21.1 million from the bond, $18.6 million in matching funds from the state) Isaac Stevens Middle School, which welcomed students in January 2021; and the opening of the new $46.5 million ($15.9 million of it in state matching funds) Ray Reynolds Middle School.
As for an upcoming bond measure, Edinger said the district is considering a timeline.
“As part of the district’s long-term facilities management plan, the district was planning to run a bond in November 2020 that would have included a third comprehensive high school for the district, and career and technical education enhancements at Chiawana and Pasco,” said Edinger.
In June 2021 the board voted to postpone that bond election because of the pandemic.
The district will ask the Long-Term Facilities Management Plan Committee to re-engage later this year to discuss the next bond.
Jay Frank, CBC spokesman, said the Pasco campus projects 4,555 full-time students expected for this school year. That’s down from the close to 5,500 who attended in fall 2020.
Columbia Basin College has 773 employees this school year, which includes 135 full-time faculty members and 220 part-time.
The school’s fiscal year 2022 operating budget is $55 million.
The big news this year at CBC is ongoing construction of the $30 million Student Recreation Center. The CBC Associated Student Body approved the project.
The 80,000-square-foot facility will feature a basketball gymnasium that seats 1,000 to 1,200 people, another basketball practice court, a smaller court with a dasher system, an esports room for multiplayer video gaming, a fitness center, office space and a recreation center where students can check out tents, sleeping bags and outdoor gear.
The project reached the halfway point in June 2021 – which puts it behind schedule.
That’s because of pandemic-related supply chain issues. The project is currently expected to wrap in spring 2022.
When it is completed, the old gym across the parking lot will be torn down.
The rec center isn’t the only big project on campus.
Frank said “the library building renovation and repairs, and the T building science wing renovations projects are the top ones.”
The library project – which will include improvements on the roof, lighting controls and HVAC units – will cost an estimated $1.2 million.
The T building improvements will cost about $816,000.
Maegan Murray, director of communication for WSU Tri-Cities, said the latest enrollment figures date back to fall 2020, with 1,716 students.
That includes 1,537 undergraduates and 179 graduate students.
The total faculty and staff at WSU Tri-Cities is 568 people, with 152 of them faculty members.
The school is operating under a $20 million budget for the 2021-22 school year. In addition, there is $7 million in grant expenditures.
The big project this past year was the fall opening of the $30 million academic building called Collaboration Hall.
The 40,000-square-foot building was funded in the state capital budget. It contains classrooms, labs for physics, biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology and geology and other disciplines. There is collaborative space, an entry suited for events and receptions and an outdoor amphitheater.
Murray said the school added some improvements to its veterans memorial as well.
“We expanded ‘Stories’ Veterans Memorial, renovated the Veterans Center and newly added the General James Mattis Leadership Library (located in the Veterans Center),” she said. The library includes books Mattis said were important to his development as a military leader.
The campus library also got a renovation, with an expansion into a robust “Learning Commons” – opened in time for classes this fall.
In that renovation, the first floor now “features a range of student services, of which some include our tutoring center, writing center, TRIO Student Success Programs, academic advising, proctoring center and Career Services.”
The second floor is now the traditional library.
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