MLSD calls for 2 elementary schools, small high school

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MOSES LAKE — Two new 450-student elementary schools, not one.

And a smaller 700- to 900-student high school, rather than a larger, 1,600-student comprehensive high school.

Those were the recommendations formally given to the Moses Lake School Board by the Long Term Planning Committee during a four-hour long special study session of the board on Wednesday.

The board unanimously approved a Thursday, Aug. 9, public hearing to solicit input from district residents about the proposal, which would use the proceeds from the as-yet-unsold $135 million in school construction bonds approved by voters in February, 2017, but tied up in court for a year following challenges to the certification of the election.

The recommendation follows more than two months of study and meetings by members of the Long Term Planning Committee, which looked at everything from enrollment projections to estimated increases in construction costs. The committee found that the district’s most pressing need is elementary school space followed by overcrowding in the high school.

“I have to emphasize that the focus of the committee was to dig into the data,” said superintendent Josh Meek. “A concrete set off data was used, and state funding is based on the number of ‘unhoused students.’”

Doug Nichols, a longtime specialist in school construction and one of the committee’s facilitators, said the district could probably build two elementary schools for $25.6 million each if both were put out to bid at the same time in 2019, while the 700-900 student high school would cost about $75.3 million if begun in 2020.

Proposed renovations to MLHS would cost around $13.8 million, Nichols added, while security improvements district wide would cost around $10 million.

The total price-tag is roughly $150 million, Nichols said, with about $15 million in state construction aid for unhoused students. In his estimates, Nichols said he used an estimated cost of $300 per square foot for elementary school, and $340 per square foot for high schools.

“I’ve been conservative to the high side in all of this, so you don’t run out of money,” Nichols said. “In my 47 years of doing this, districts have run out of money in 46 of them.”

“We cannot afford a 1,600-student high school right now,” Meek said. “It’s the cost of construction, based on two-year-old work, and there’s been a lot that has shifted and changed since then.”

The plan differs from the one originally approved by 60.03 percent of Moses Lake School District voters in 2017 because construction costs have risen during the year delay caused by court challenges to the election. Last fall, district voters elected two challengers — Elliott Goodrich and Vickey Melcher — who opposed construction of a big, new high school.

And while additional elementary school capacity is something Goodrich ran on, he challenged Nichols by noting that his elementary school costs were significantly higher than the original $19 million for elementary school No. 11.

“I think these numbers are a lot higher than they need to be,” Goodrich said. “I want us to be as economic and responsible as we can be. Othello built their elementary school at the same time we built Park Orchard for $50 per square foot less.”

“If you give an architect a $300 per square foot target, he will come in at $300,” Goodrich added.

“Actually,” Nichols responded, “He will come in at $310.”

Nichols said the district can set “low but reasonable” budget targets and manage design and construction carefully and bid during the off season — like January — to “save some real money.”

Meek hopes the board can approve the construction recommendation before the end of August, and he also hopes the community can use the upcoming public hearing to move forward.

“We have some potential to do some amazing things and find common ground in that excitement, and not kick each other in the shins,” he said.

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