Richmond benefits from DOD funds

$270 million in federal funds to help modernize military-impacted schools

Richmond benefits from DOD fundsSierra Sands officials (from left) Ernie Bell, Pam Smith, Elaine Littleton, Michael Yancy and David Ostash do a site walk through Richmond Elementary School. — Photo by Laura Austin

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The last remaining campus located on China Lake has been tapped for modernization, thanks to $270 million in federal education funds recently signed into law by President Donald Trump. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy worked with local leaders to help secure the money to upgrade Richmond Elementary School.

“We are excited about this new opportunity to improve schools in our local community through the efforts of Congressman Kevin McCarthy and his team and their understanding of the critical need to improve schools on military installations,” said Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Ernie Bell.

“We are grateful for the recognition of the need to improve facilities for children, especially children of military families who continue to faithfully serve our country. Our military installation schools were built in the late 1940-1950s and the infrastructure is beginning to fail.”

Several years ago, SSUSD qualified for some $70 million (including matching funds) in DOD allocations to improve schools impacted by the military’s presence. The result was a brand-new Murray Middle School campus, now located off base and adjacent to Burroughs High School, and significant upgrades to the Burroughs campus.

The current allocation was included in the Fiscal Year 2019 Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Act and Continuing Appropriations (HR 6157) “to construct, renovate, repair or expand elementary and secondary public schools on military installations.”

McCarthy worked with Rep. Paul Cook to include a provision in the act that prioritizes the 38 schools nationwide most in need of improvements — including Richmond.

“In allocating this funding, the Department of Defense will give priority consideration to those schools having the most serious capacity and/or facility condition deficiencies, where school districts will submit applications for funding,” said a representative of McCarthy’s office.

Bell said that so far the district has not learned Richmond’s ranking in that list (in the previous list, Murray was ranked No. 4 and BHS was ranked No. 10), nor the amount of funding the school qualifies for.

However, he noted that the plan so far will focus on modernizing the current Richmond campus — not moving it off base. “We recognize that the current location serves our military families, and the present needs of that community, in its present location.”

No other details, including the timeline of the project, have been announced yet. “We anticipate getting an invitation from the Office of Economic Adjustment sometime this month and then participating in a planning session where all of these logistics will be worked out.”

“All children deserve a quality education, and this is especially true for the children of those who work to defend our nation on military installations across America,” said McCarthy.

“By including more funding to improve schools on military installations, we send a strong message to parents that their children will have the resources and facilities to receive a world-class education.

He thanked Bell and the SSUSD staff “for their amazing work teaching future generations, especially those with special needs. Richmond Elementary is well-positioned to receive this funding, and I look forward to continuing to work with Sierra Sands and the Ridgecrest community so that these improvements become a reality.”

“I believe our district is blessed beyond measure with receiving this grant to modernize Richmond Elementary School,” said SSUSD President Amy Castillo-Covert. “I am especially grateful for the support of Congressman McCarthy and his efforts to secure funding for the project.”

“This will be a great project to ensure that all of our military kids have the best facilities to meet their educational needs,” said SSUSD Trustee Tim Johnson. “I look forward to using the lessons learned from our last DOD project to make sure this one runs more efficiently. We are looking forward to once again combining our teams to modernize facilities and update technology for the children of Sierra Sands and the entire community.”

“Given the unique history of our community, it is extremely important that we update our great schools from their original World War II-era construction when all were located on the base at China Lake,” said Dave Janiec, executive director of the China Lake Alliance, who helped advocate for including Richmond in the priorities and funding allocations.

“This provision will provide needed funds to modernize Richmond Elementary School, as was accomplished for Burroughs High School and Murray Middle School. This helps secure a solid quality of life and educational experience for our military and civilian community family and most importantly all of our children. We thank Congressman McCarthy for his strong support in making this a reality.”

Story First Published: 2018-10-05