Nearly a year after applying, the Pullman School District announced Wednesday it has been awarded a $7.4 million grant to increase the number of kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.
Dan Hornfelt, district executive director of support services, said the money from the state’s Class Size Reduction Construction Grant program will help build a much-needed elementary school.
Hornfelt said the district was notified Tuesday it was one of about 20 awarded dollars to address classroom shortages brought about by state class size initiatives.
“It was a challenging, competitive grant,” he said. “We were supposed to hear something in March, and when we didn’t, we thought they’d forgotten about us completely.”
He said now the district has some decisions to make.
“Initially, we were going for 18 classrooms” in a new elementary school, Hornfelt said. “Do we want to do 24?”
That’s because, Superintendent Paul Sturm said, “We’ve had increases. Now the increases are increasing.”
“It’s great news for the school district, it’s great news for the community,” Sturm said. “We really weren’t expecting it.”
The Pullman School District has been planning for some years to expand its facilities, but until recently thought it would have more time before deciding to build a fourth elementary school.
Sturm said the district has grown by 450 students since the 2008-09 academic year.
The steady and continued influx of students due to expansions at Washington State University, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and new housing developments in combination with state initiatives in 2014 made it necessary to move quickly.
Washington Initiative 1351, approved in November 2014, required class sizes to be limited to 17 students in kindergarten through third grade, and 25 students in fourth through 12th grades.
Based on Pullman’s own projections and numbers from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sturm estimated the district would likely need an additional 16 classes by 2018.
To get ahead of the game, the Pullman School Board voted last fall to seek approval of a $23.5 million bond issue to build an 18-classroom elementary school on the northwest end of Terre View Drive.
Voters approved it in February with a 67.68 percent yes vote.
Hornfelt said he is busy putting together resolutions to be discussed at the School Board meeting on Wednesday to move forward with accepting the grant.
“We’ll be able to use that money,” Hornfelt said. “I don’t see anything standing in our way.
The grant program, requires districts to confirm they possess the necessary resources – including staffing and matching funds – to add K-3 classrooms within 30 days of notification of receiving the grant. It also mandates funds may be used only for modernizing or constructing new classroom space, not erecting portable classrooms.
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