In Our View: Cheers & Jeers

Senate puts school construction first;biomass plant gaffe costs taxpayers

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Cheers: To the state Senate for thinking about school construction needs toward the beginning, and not the end, of the legislative session. On Monday, senators voted unanimously to authorize $544 million in bonds for school construction projects around the state, including $10 million for security upgrades prompted by school shootings such as the one in Newtown, Conn.

One of the talking points of the majority coalition that took control of the Senate from the mainstream Democrats was to truly put education first, and this is an example of a promise kept.

The security money would go toward panic alarms to alert local authorities in an emergency as well as changes to reduce the number of public entrances to schools and increase control of them, in order to deter intruders. The rest of the money would be used for more-traditional construction and facilities rehabilitation projects. A portion of the bill even orders the state schools superintendent to expedite the reconstruction of Crestline Elementary, the Evergreen district school that was destroyed in a catastrophic fire two weeks ago.

Jeers: To Clark County commissioners' ill-conceived downtown biomass plant. The idea, perhaps, was noble: Use energy from wood waste and other green fuel to generate power and heat buildings on the county's downtown Vancouver office campus. But the problems quickly became apparent: A smokestack on the downtown horizon; unwanted emissions; trucks full of debris coming and going on the streets; hostile neighbors and city government. Nonetheless, Commissioner Tom Mielke and then-Commissioner Marc Boldt pressed ahead and signed a binding agreement with project developer Schneider Electric.

The project quickly and predictably fell apart under its own weight, and the county was left owing Schneider. This week, commissioners agreed to pay $292,500 to settle the company's claims against the county. "It wasn't a good contract," said Commissioner Steve Stuart, who had refused to sign it. Mielke, meantime, is still touting a biomass plant, this time at the old Chelatchie Prairie mill site. Perhaps that proposal has merit, but let's hope the commissioners have learned an expensive lesson and will remember to think before they sign.

Cheers: To reuniting Crestline Elementary pupils this fall. After the Feb. 3 fire razed the school, Evergreen district officials worked quickly and laudably found new schools for nearly 500 students and teachers at several nearby locations. Even more to their credit, however, Superintendent John Deeder and his team are now looking at solutions beyond this school year. The school is likely to be rebuilt, probably on the same site, and could reopen in the fall of 2014. That leaves next year. With no empty school buildings on hand, district officials will be checking out large vacant buildings in the general vicinity of Interstate 205 and Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard for a temporary, united home. Portable classrooms are another option and could be sited on empty district land at Northeast 162nd Avenue and 39th Street or another site.

Jeers: To an overtime wait for Vancouver's overtime records. Columbian reporter Tyler Graf's request to all of the cities in Clark County was clear, simple and timely: With 2012 drawing to a close, please send a list of the city's top overtime earners, how much overtime they earned, and what their total compensation was. He filed a request with the city of Vancouver on Thursday, Dec. 20 and, as per the law, asked for a response within five days. In these days of computerized payrolls, he figured it couldn't take too long. Wrong. After four delays, the information arrived Feb. 5, weeks after every other city had sent him their records. Lesson learned. We'll be filing for this year's Vancouver totals around the Fourth of July.