New school complex funded in state capital budget
Sometimes dreams do come true. The Grand Coulee Dam School District’s plans for a new school appear to be a go.
After long budgeting hassles in Olympia, the governor, the House and Senate finally agreed today, mostly, on a budget — one that includes enough money to build a new school for the Grand Coulee Dam community.
Added to the $14 million already approved two years ago for the project, a $17 million line item in the supplemental capital budget appeared virtually assured of passage early this morning.
Set aside specifically for the “Grand Coulee Dam school project,” the funding is part of a total appropriation of $27.4 million for “Distressed Schools” in the state, inserted there by Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, who has been an advocate for the local district’s efforts to fund a new K-12 building for years.
The ranking Republican for the Senate capital budget, Parlette also is responsible for the earlier $14 million waiting in state coffers for the project.
Reached on the Senate floor just after the governor called yet another special session at midnight last night (for one day), Parlette said she expected the budget to pass within hours.
“I’m thrilled for the students, faculty and families that make up the Grand Coulee Dam School District,” Parlette said in a press release already prepared. “They have waited a long time for this facility and I know how important it is to the community.”
The additional $17 million will serve as the matching funds to the $14 million Parlette secured last year through the state’s school construction account, giving the school district the money it needs to build the $31 million K-12 structure. The funds may be used for the school and a variety of facilities related to the project, including a wood shop, an auto shop, demolition of the old A.E. Wright Elementary school and other extraneous costs.
The appropriation does not include funds for non-instructional facilities such as a sports complex, event parking, a football and track field, a gymnasium or similar items, Parlette said.
District Superintendent Dennis Carlson, who has been watching the budget decision carefully, was elated.
The funding means that the project can be started almost immediately.
Carlson said that head architect Laurence Rose of Design West in Pullman said the firm will set up a portable office very soon. While final plans are being drawn, the demolition of Wright Elementary and site development can begin.
“Things could be happening within 60 days,” Carlson stated.
That shovel-readiness was important in getting the funding approved because it’s part of a $1.1 billion “jobs package” expected to produce some 20,000 jobs in every corner of the state over the next year.
“The facilities used today were built more than a half-century ago — the high school in 1951 as a temporary building during construction of Grand Coulee Dam; the elementary school in 1952 and the middle school in 1955,” Parlette noted. “This is a unique opportunity to begin building a consolidated, state-of-the-art campus.”
Carlson said plans for the new school complex here are patterned after a charter school Design West designed in Boise, Idaho.
“I expect that some of us will go down there and see the facility and ask Boise officials if there is anything they would change if they were doing it again,” Carlson stated.
District officials here have been wooing both state and federal office holders for years in an effort to get someone to help them come up with funds to build the new complex.
Parlette was among the first to grasp the impossibile situation the local district is in because of a lack of taxable property — due to the federal presence in the community. And she has continued to press the issue with federal legislators, including representatives to Congress Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings, as well as Sen. Maria Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray. All have been supportive.
Parlette said this morning that she intends to use the state’s added contribution to press for federal help to fund the rest of the facilities and contribute to a longterm funding solution.
Design West’s total package, including sports facilities and event parking, comes closer to a projected $45 million.
“The federal government continues to have a vested interest in the Grand Coulee Dam, and therefore should also uphold its responsibility to the residents and families who reside in the community it established,” Parlette said. “There is no better way to show this type of commitment than by partnering with the district to help fully fund this new K-12 educational facility.”