Walla Walla School Board eyes move of preschool program

The program is housed in Blue Ridge Elementary School but could move into a modular building on the campus.

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WALLA WALLA -- The Walla Walla School Board will be studying whether to move its public preschool program out of Blue Ridge Elementary in the coming year.

During a public work session Tuesday, the board got a preliminary overview of a potential move of the Head Start/ECEAP preschool program, housed at Blue Ridge, into a separate, modular building on the school's grounds.

Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Mick Miller said there is an urgent need to free up space at Blue Ridge, which houses kindergarten through fifth grades as well as the early learning program geared for 3- and 4-year-olds. Head Start and ECEAP -- which stands for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program -- are federal and state preschool programs that serve low-income and at-risk children.

The move would relocate about 250 children served by the preschool program, the majority housed at Blue Ridge. Doing so would free up almost an entire floor of classrooms at Blue Ridge that would then be used to accommodate the growing student population, while also potentially relieving crowding at other district elementary schools. Space at Green Park Elementary dedicated to preschool would also shift to the new building.

The preschool proposal is still in the early stages -- the board intends to discuss the plan in more detail in November. But the need for timely action was stated more than once during the session.

The discussion is not new. Moving the program was one of the top needs listed by a community task force that recently studied the district's facilities needs.

The district is exploring different funding options for the project, which was estimated to cost between $2.7 million and $3.1 million.

District Chief Financial Officer Pat Johnston said the district is looking at potential grants to help with the cost.

Miller said that with board approval, the modular building project could potentially get done in six months. The goal would be to have the preschool program relocated in time for the start of the 2012-13 school year.

Besides seeking funding, the district would also explore whether boundary lines would again need to shift to adjust for the new space at Blue Ridge, while relieving crowding at some schools, like Edison Elementary. Although new, Edison is now the district's most populated school. Assistant Superintendent Linda Boggs said a boundary change could affect Edison, Green Park, Sharpstein and Prospect Point, with boundaries potentially shifting a street or two in certain neighborhoods.

Miller also said Blue Ridge could grow enough on its own in the coming year to not require a boundary shift, but the school would be available for those wishing to open enroll.

Board member Max Carrera said he wanted the November meeting to be an opportunity to discuss other crowding concerns within the district to make sure the right project is given priority. In the past the district has also discussed the need to relocate the district's Homelink home-schooling program out of Berney Elementary.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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