The Kelso School District is leveling homes on 11 parcels of property to expand parking and improve traffic safety at Wallace and Butler Acres elementary schools.
Over the last year, the district acquired nearly $1.6 million worth property using money from the $98.6 million facilities bond voters approved early this year. Seven properties are near Wallace Elementary and four are around Butler Acres Elementary.
The district’s community-wide surveys last year revealed that safety is the public’s top concern with regard to schools, and parking and traffic were among the top six, said Scott Westlund, the district’s chief financial and operations officer.
“We are talking about schools that are anywhere from 40 to 70 years old,” Westlund said. “They weren’t designed to have that many kids being picked up and dropped off. They were built for buses and for kids to walk to school.”
Westlund said traffic builds up in these areas, especially at the beginning and end of the school day. Limited parking space at Butler Acres also means some staff occasionally park on nearby streets.
“If anything, it’s frustrating for the people who live up in that area to have to worry about whether or not at certain times of the day traffic is going to be backed up,” Westlund said. “It doesn’t create a safe environment that we would like to see, so hopefully these changes ... will make a much better (situation).”
The district began buying the properties last September before the bond measure passed because it was confident voters would approve the measure, and officials did not want to wait.
“We knew we had an issue way before (the bond measure), so we were planning on dealing with this issue whether the bond passed or not,” Westlund said.
The extra property around Wallace will be used not only for parking, but it also will accommodate the design for the new school being built using bond money.
“The only way we knew we could build a new school down there and add lots of parking and improve the traffic flow was to buy extra property,” Westlund said.
By purchasing the property before the bond passed, the district saved time and money for construction, Westlund said. All the properties were purchased through a real estate agent at “fair market value,” Westlund said.
“Plus, knowing we had the properties, as soon as the bond passed we were pretty much immediately into hiring our architectural consultants,” Westlund said.
The district has been clearing the houses from the properties over the last week. No major construction is planned for these sites until spring at the earliest, said Gary Schimmel, facilities supervisor.