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School district, city at odds on needed infrastructure upgrade

One thing can be gathered from Thursday night's joint meeting between the Sunnyside City Council and the Sunnyside School Board-communication has been lacking between the two entities.

The lack of communication centers around the costs and design of infrastructure improvements for the new middle school the district is building along Washout Road.

At the center of the discussion is a disagreement between the district's engineers and the city's engineers on what is needed to install water and sewer lines in the area. The district has an option that would save taxpayers some $300,000, but this would involve the installation of a 10-inch water main. The city, though, requires that all developments install a 12-inch water main with no exceptions.

Sunnyside School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole backtracked and went over some of the history of how the district selected the property on Washout Road.

He said when it was decided the district would purchase property, a committee was formed to look at different parcels. The committee included two former City of Sunnyside employees. One of the first options was building a new school behind Pioneer Elementary. Cole said the district also looked at property along Mabton Highway, but finally decided on the Washout Road property after receiving a good bid. Cole said all together the district looked at 11 or 12 pieces of property to build the new school, including areas near the airport and on Cemetery Road.

Cole said the district will be building a new middle school, which is set to begin construction this spring, to help meet the increased enrollment expected. Currently, the district serves 5,700 students with the figure expected to rise to 6,200 in the next three to four years. On the same property along Washout Road, the district will be building a new elementary school after it completes construction of the middle school.

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar said she wished the district had looked more at properties the city had that has infrastructure in place. School board member Fred Kilian interjected, saying one of the reasons the district picked the property was that it was told the city would be annexing property out in that area as the city continues to grow.

Some confusion arose when Councilman Bruce Ricks stated that he thought the issue concerning the installation of water mains had been solved by the engineers, apparently to the blind eye of the school district.

Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell elaborated on Ricks' comments, saying that in a meeting he sat in on, both sides were able to bring the costs of installation for water and sewer lines down with some creative designs.

"What looked like a barrier was really being driven by costs," said Stockwell.

Stockwell changed the subject briefly and said the city is looking at applying for a Community Development Block Grant next year to help with some of the expenses for covering the irrigation ditch in the area. He said the district and the city will have to also look at the traffic impacts in the area.

Stockwell, though, cautioned the school board members that it is very important that the city and the district work together on the project. He said the partnership will help secure such needed things as grants to lower the costs to taxpayers.

Stockwell also encouraged better communication between the city and the district when it comes to talking about traffic impacts. He said the same lack of communication that took place with infrastructure can't happen again.

"We got past this one because we started talking creatively," said Stockwell.

Smith, though, understood the city's point on not budging from its requirement of a 12-inch main, but said the job of the school board is to try and save patrons dollars. Smith said he would like to see the city open to other options with the installation of infrastructure.

Stockwell disagreed with Smith, saying he would not ask the city to budge from its requirements. Stockwell said no developer coming into the community would ask the city to change its infrastructure requirements.

Cole added that he wasn't aware that any matter had been settled in regards to infrastructure. Cole said he sees a difference of $300,000 in infrastructure costs between what the district and the city is proposing.

School board member Fred Kilian said he can remembering seeing maps brought forth by former city employees that said infrastructure installation for the school project would work.

"I am not going to argue about who said where and when," said Kilian. "All I am saying is I better get the damn thing (school) built before you have a new engineer."

Mayor Ed Prilucik suggested that Cole and Stockwell sit down and negotiate an agreement between the two sides, settling all the issues for the project on which both sides can agree.

. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at mkantman@eaglenewspapers.com

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