Washington, August 11 – A Pentagon spending bill working its way through the House includes nearly $85 million to build four new elementary schools at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said Tuesday.
Five of the existing elementary schools on Lewis-McChord were among the 19 at Army installations across the nation that were rated in poor condition or substantially smaller than needed in a recent survey, Dicks said.
As chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, Dicks has set aside $250 million to repair and replace the schools in the worst condition, and the ones at Lewis-McChord happen to be among those that are in most urgent need of work.
The school repair funding is Dicks’ first major initiative since taking over the subcommittee chairmanship.
Though the subcommittee approved the defense spending measure for the coming fiscal year several weeks ago, it has mostly been kept under wraps until the full Appropriations Committee considers it after Congress’ August recess.
Dicks said the condition of the base schools was “totally unacceptable and deplorable. You can’t have troops deployed, back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan, and have them worrying about conditions in the schools their kids are attending.”
There are six elementary schools on Lewis-McChord: Beachwood, Clarkmoor, Evergreen, Greenwood and Hillside on the old Fort Lewis, and Carter Lake on the former McChord Air Force Base. The school buildings are federally owned, but educational programs within them are run by the Clover Park School District.
With the exception of Evergreen – built in the 1990s – the schools were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. Most are smaller schools that have not been remodeled or undergone major improvements since.
Clover Park officials have been working for more than five years on a plan for school improvements with Lewis-McChord officials, Dicks and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma., whose district includes the base.
Smith and Dicks, along with Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, visited Hillside last week to get a close look at school conditions.
“These schools are on the edge of being unsafe,” Smith said, adding that among other things they don’t meet current earthquake standards.
Ray Miller, Clover Park’s business services and capital projects administrator, said school district maintenance workers have done a “phenomenal job” keeping the schools up and running.
“But there’s only so much they can do,” he added.
The Army has been increasingly concerned about the school issue since Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Fort Riley, Kan., in May and viewed the problems firsthand.
Overall, there are 80 schools on military bases owned by the Department of Education and operated by a local school district.
Dicks said the Education Department does not have the money needed to repair or replace the existing schools.
The Pentagon came up with the priority list, and Dicks said the money for Lewis-McChord was not an earmark.
“This is a national program,” he said. “DOD is deciding how the money will be spent. They have the list, they evaluate it.”
As chairman of the subcommittee, Smith said it was Dicks’ responsibility to address the school issue.
“It is a military-wide need, it is not peculiar to JBLM,” Smith said.
A new Hillside would house about 650 students, and a new Beachwood between 800 and 900.
Clarkmoor and Greenwood elementary schools will be consolidated into one new school with a new building and the old schools torn down. The new school would serve an estimated 650 students.
In 2004, Heartwood Elementary School was closed and consolidated with Carter Lake. Under the new plan, Carter Lake and Heartwood would be torn down and a new school built, Dicks’ office said. The new school would serve about 650 students.
The Army eventually wants an additional $66 million to relocate Woodbrook Middle School – with a large population of military kids – from off-post to on-post at Lewis-McChord and to renovate Evergreen.
Other bases that will receive initial funding for work on schools include Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; Fort Polk, La.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Belvoir, Va.; and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008 email@example.com
Staff writer Debbie Cafazzo contributed to this story.
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