Town Meeting Seeks Input on Historic School in Rainier

BY JENNA LOUGHLIN jloughlin@yelmonline.com
Posted 3/13/15

By the end of April, the Rainier School District will once again take ownership of its original school building. The question is what to do with it.

In order to answer that question, RSD …

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Town Meeting Seeks Input on Historic School in Rainier

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By the end of April, the Rainier School District will once again take ownership of its original school building. The question is what to do with it.

In order to answer that question, RSD Superintendent Tim Garchow will be hold a town meeting next week where members of the community will be presented with the three options the district has, and then asked which one they prefer and why. The meeting is open to anyone living in the Rainier School District.

“We are not going to take action without input from the community,” Garchow said. “This is the community’s school district, and we want to hear what they have to say before we take any action on this building.”

The school located at 207 Centre St. S., was originally built in 1915, making it 100 years old this year. RSD sold the building to the Rainier Historical Society back in May 2005 for $1 with the stipulation that if the organization ever chose to give up ownership, the district would have first dibs to take it back. And that is exactly what is happening now.

Due to the need to comply with Initiative 1351 passed last November by the voters in Washington state that requires a reduction in class size, as well as HB-2276, also known as the McCleary decision, which requires a certain class size by 2018, Rainier is in need of 11 more classrooms. The district has seven empty rooms and thus will have to gain four more in the next two to three years.

“We have to add classrooms,” Garchow said.

These four classrooms could come in the form of four portables, which would total between $600,000 and $800,000. However that option is far from ideal.

“We have beautiful campuses,” Garchow said. “We don’t have a ton of portables. ... There’s nothing more permanent than a portable.”

The other issue is, while the state will help the district pay for the extra teachers necessary to reduce class size, it will not help pay for the creation of the extra classrooms to house those teachers. This leaves quite a large chunk of the financial responsibility to meet the mandates on the district.

Instead of solving the class size issue by adding four more portables to the four Rainier already has, Garchow has come up with a plan that would utilize the historic school in such a way that the district could add the classroom space it needs, as well as other benefits to the community, without having to raise taxes at all.

As he will explain in more detail at the town meeting, Garchow said the district would like to remodel the building to retain its look and feel from 100 years ago and use the historic school to house:

• a field office for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department, which Garchow has heard the community and the sheriff’s department want;

• a town museum where a room is renovated to look like a 1915 classroom complete with furniture and other historical items;

• an adult learning center where community members could access computers to earn an associate’s degree or meet with agencies that help people apply for jobs;



• the district’s Back on Track alternative high school and Rainier Virtual Learning online high school;

• the district office and boardroom, which could double as a community meeting space.

Moving the district office would allow the maintenance department to move into the current district office, opening up the two portables it currently uses for classroom space. Moving the alternative and online high schools also frees up two more portables, giving the district the final four classrooms it needs to meet the I-1351 and HB-2276 class size mandates.

Although the Rainier Historical Society has used grant money to renovate the historic school, it is not up to the code or American’s With Disabilities Act regulations required for a current school building. Garchow estimates this would cost between $600,000 and $800,000 — the same price as four portables. So how will the district pay for these upgrades to a building that is on the historic registry?

“Luckily we have been very, very good with our money in the last five years,” Garchow said. “There is something called non-voter debit. Non-voter debit is a limit based on your tax base school districts can borrow money without running a special levy or without running a bond. It’s a line of credit against the school district.”

The last time Rainier used this line of credit was to purchase 80 acres of land on Manke Road that can be used to build another school in the future. That debt was paid off in 2014, but Garchow kept the $40,000 the district was paying annually toward that debt as a line item in the budget, and thus it has not been appropriated for another use.

This means Rainier could borrow half of the maximum amount of money allowed by its non-voter debit limit to bring the historic school up to code with no special levy, no bond and no tax increase and use the $40,000 it had been spending to pay off this new loan without having to take money away from any other department or program.

The other two options available to the district are to mothball the school — meaning board it up and use it for storage only — at a cost of $50,000 annually or demolish it for $250,000.

“We own it. Doing nothing is not an option,” Garchow said. “This is a piece of our history.”

While he will respect the wishes of the community, Garchow said he is not going to be the one who destroys such a historic location.

“If the community says overwhelmingly ‘Tear it down,’ the next superintendent can tear it down; I don’t want that on me,” he said. “I’m not gonna do that. I will not be the superintendent that tears down the original school house.”

After explaining the options at the town meeting, there will be an open mic for those in attendance to express their opinions as well as written feedback forms. Garchow will use what the public expresses to make a recommendation to the school board, which will make the final decision on what to do with Rainier’s original school.

If the community decides it wants to renovate the historic school, Garchow estimates construction could begin this summer and the start of the 2015-16 school year could coincide with the Rainier School District occupying its first school again on its centennial anniversary. Talk about perfect timing.

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