The Bethel School District’s long-term plans for building a new high school are on shaky ground because of a dispute between the state and Pierce County over land-use regulations.
The state Growth Management Hearings Board ruled in July that the county is out of compliance with a comprehensive-plan amendment that would, if upheld, allow the district to build a high school on an 80-acre site it owns in the Graham area. The board later rejected a request from the district to reconsider the ruling.
According to a district spokeswoman, school officials probably will file an appeal in Superior Court in an attempt to reverse the state board’s decision and clear the way for the new school – though it’s not exactly an emergency. The school, which would be the fourth high school for the district, likely won’t be needed until about 15 years from now in order to meet projected growth of the student population in the third-largest school district in Pierce County.
The land where the school would be built is at 23009 70th Ave. E., across from a Graham Fire and Rescue fire station.
The property was acquired after demographic studies pointed to future needs. The district isn’t in jeopardy of losing its investment, nor does it intend to build somewhere else, said spokeswoman Krista Carlson.
Other possible locations for a new high school were considered, but “this site was economically feasible, available, and large enough to meet our educational needs,” Carlson said. “To build in other areas of the district would be significantly more expensive. It would also likely require condemnation of property in order to assemble the amount of land needed. Condemnation is not something the (School Board) is willing to do.”
In condemnation proceedings, private property is obtained by public agencies with monetary compensation but without the owner’s consent. The process can be expensive as it moves through legal channels.
Carlson said the district “works hard to be fiscally responsible” and use taxpayer dollars prudently when buying proposed school sites.
District officials have noted that the Graham Land-Use Advisory Committee, a citizens’ panel that issues recommendations to government on land-use issues, supports the district’s plan to build at the 70th Avenue East site.
Counties’ comprehensive plans, which govern local land uses, must comply with state regulations. The Growth Management Hearings Board has Pierce County’s policies dealing with where schools can be located require further review.