WASHINGTON – 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 the base 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 JBLM 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.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, whose district includes JBLM, said he had visited one of the 1950s-era schools at the base last week.
“These schools are on the edge of being unsafe,” Smith said, adding that among other things they don’t meet current earthquake standards.
The Army has been increasingly concerned about the school issue since Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Fort Riley in May and viewed the problems first hand.
Overall, there are 80 schools on military bases owned by the Department of Education and operated by a local school district. The ones at JBLM are run by the Clover Park 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 JBLM 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.
The plan calls for replacing Hillside and Beachwood elementary schools at JBLM. Clarkmoor and Greenwood elementary schools will be consolidated into one new school with a new building and the old schools torn down. In 2004, Carter Lake and Heartwood elementary schools were consolidated with Heartwood closed. Carter Lake and Heartwood will be torn down and a new school built, Dicks’ office said.
The Army eventually wants an additional $66 million to relocate a middle school from off-post to on the post at JBLM and to renovate another elementary school.
Other bases that will receive initial funding for work on schools include Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Polk, Fort Still, Fort Belvoir and Schofield Barracks.