A long-awaited replacement for the 82-year-old Harrah Elementary School building in the Mount Adams (Wash.) School District is close to becoming a reality.
The Yakima Herald reports that if all goes to plan, the new school will be built on 70 acres of farmland adjacent to the east limits of the town of Harrah. It will house students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“They’ve been anticipating this for years, so it’s really exciting,” Superintendent Curt Guaglianone says. “During our board meeting when we announced it — when the board says, ‘Yes, we’re purchasing this land, yes, we’re going to build this school’ — we had three people in tears. Community members just didn’t think it would ever, ever, ever happen.”
The community has been trying for 30 to 40 years to raise the funds to build a new school. The 900-student district is the second largest in the state in land area, but it has a small tax base. Much of the district is tax-exempt as part of the Yakama reservation.
Because of this, the district has struggled to raise the bond or levy money necessary to pay for the construction of a new school. In the last year, two bond measures failed to get the required 60 percent support from voters.
Two years ago, state Sen. Jim Honeyford proposed a bill to help districts with less than 1,000 students and without the tax base to raise construction funds through bonds and levies.
Between the grant from Honeyford’s program, other state funding and the district’s reserves, Guaglianone says Mount Adams has about $27 million — enough to move forward with the construction.
The existing Harrah Elementary doesn’t have enough room for its more than 550 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Half of a bus barn has been converted into sixth-grade classrooms, and when that wasn’t enough, the school added five portables for a total of 10 classrooms.
The school is in dire need of new infrastructure. Portables have no running water or restrooms, and the heating is unreliable.
Several times, the campus heating has gone out and students had to be bused to the high school gymnasium more than 10 miles away,
Students are constantly shuffling from one building to the next, whether to attend elective courses, eat in one of the four cafeteria lunch rotations required to seat all of the students, or to use a toilet in one of the two main buildings.
The new building will have up-to-date security features and will be big enough to hold students in kindergarten through eighth grade, relocating about120 students from the middle school to the new campus.
Guaglianone says the district hopes to break ground on the new building within a year.