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School construction projects stalled or delayed across Washington

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — School construction projects across Washington state coming to a stop after the Legislature’s failure to pass a capital budget.

Partisan divide lead to a deadlock on the $4.3 billion capital budget. Lawmakers adjourned indefinitely on Thursday night without voting on the capital budget.

Lawmakers say they had the votes to pass the capital budget but it never came up on the floor for a vote — all because of a  fight over water rights.

Known as the Hirst decision, a state Supreme Court ruling gave water-drilling permitting rights to the counties, drastically reducing residential wells.
The ruling affected a lot of people especially in rural areas who were stopped from building homes on their properties.

Many lawmakers believe a fix is necessary to help the people affected but they could not agree on how to permanently fix Hirst, leading to the stalemate.

More than $1 billion from the capital budget is supposed to go to school construction and renovations. On Friday, many school districts scrambled to determine the impact to their construction projects.

Mount Vernon is one of the districts impacted. They are relying on $26 million from the state to help build six new schools.

Mount Vernon School Superintendent Carl Bruner says five schools are in the design phase. Since they no longer have a set timeline of when they can send the projects out to bid, Bruner fears the projects could be delayed.

With no capital budget, school districts are being told they cannot bid projects. At least 11 projects statewide are grounded indefinitely.

And even the ones that are already off the ground are affected. Bruner says he has stop certain aspects of a build already underway for a new elementary school.

The Chehalis School District is in the same position.

“When all these projects are being put on hold, the backlog will be terrible when the funds are released -- contractors and subcontractors to do all that work will be impossible,” Superintendent Ed Rothlin said.

The bones of one school are taking shape in Chehalis but the work to build a second new school on the same site is now on complete hold.

“The biggest concern I have is the cost of construction,” Rothlin said.

Mount Vernon says in their case a one-year delay in construction will cost them $1 million because construction material and labor is rising.

“That is very significant,” Bruner said.

It could mean they have to build smaller new schools.

“The scope of our projects become smaller,” Bruner said.

Districts are hoping lawmakers will find a way to pass the capital budget sooner than later.

If lawmakers can agree on how to fix Hirst, the governor could call a one-day special session to pass the capital budget. If they cannot agree, the issue will have to wait until next year’s legislative session that begins in January.