USBR will take comments on local education impact


Scott Hunter

Grand Coulee Dam looms over local public schools in the background

The Grand Coulee Dam School District will get its opportunity, a bit late, to comment on how the Bureau of Reclamation’s Third Powerhouse remodeling project could affect schools in the area.

The addendum to the Third Powerhouse Overhaul Environmental Assessment, will allow the school district to make its case that it was left out of the original assessment process and that it could have a significant impact on classrooms and schools in general.

Schools have until Feb. 12, to provide addendum information that will be placed in the assessment.

The Bureau of Reclamation has concluded that the near $600 million refitting process could take 10 years and might add 30 temporary students to the school district.

In summary, the Bureau has stated that the project “would not result in a significant impact on the school district.”

“Not so,” school Superintendent Dennis Carlson said Monday. “It all depends on the student and which class he or she lands in.”

Several classes in Center Elementary School are maxed out, meaning that additional students in these classrooms would require that they be split up, creating another class and a new teacher hired.

“And we don’t have any vacant classrooms, in either Center or the middle school,” Carlson said.

Both third-grade classes at Center Elementary currently have 27 students. By contractural agreement with the teachers’ union, the maximum allowed per classroom is 28 students.

“If we have three more third-grade students, we are in trouble,” Principal Sue Hinton said.

The two fourth-grade classes are about the same, each with 26 students.

“We don’t have any more classrooms,” Hinton said. “If we need to create another classroom, the only space we have is the teacher’s lounge, and if we try to take that, it becomes a union issue since we have to provide a lounge for teachers,” Hinton added.   

Coulee Medical Center ER and Walk-In Care

Carlson stated that while it “might not seem significant to the Bureau, it could be to us.”

If special education students were involved, there would be added expense to the district.

Carlson has a Jan. 19, meeting with project manager Mark Jensen to explain some of the concerns the district has.

It all came about when the school board authorized Carlson to research the process of filing a lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation asking for a work stoppage while the lawsuit progresses.

“We are talking with a law firm in the Southwest who excels in filing against the federal government,” Carlson stated.

The remodeling at the Third Powerhouse involves some 150 workers.

“Since no new significant effects were identified in this analysis, the existing FONSI should remain valid,” was the concluding statement in the Bureau’s finding.

The school board has been frustrated in its search for funding to re-do the schools here. Every community in the Columbia Basin that receives the water from the Grand Coulee Dam’s pumping plant for irrigation has new schools. But untaxable federal ownership of land prevents the district from raising the money to replace aging schools in the community that makes the Columbia Basin development possible.

The district sits on a $14 million offer from the state for new school construction, but hasn’t been able to come up with a source for the additional $32 million needed to build new facilities.


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