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Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent David Ostash and Richmond Elementary School Principal Michael Yancey visit the site of the new Richmond school. / Laura Austin Photo

New Richmond School breaks ground at 100 Richmond Road

By Bruce Auld News Review Correspondent–

After 70 years of being just one dogleg short of Richmond Road, a new Richmond School is now under construction on Richmond Road, which will co-locate the school and the road. The new school site is along the west side of Richmond Road between Ridgecrest Boulevard and Gold Canyon Street. The site is on federal land owned by the U.S. Navy, outside the secure area. The new school would accommodate existing and future growth for students in Transitional Kindergarten through sixth grade, with seats for up to 822 students. At full buildout, the campus would consist of a total of 99,850 square feet in five permanent modular constructed one-story buildings on forty acres.

Building A will house administration, the multipurpose room, kitchen, cafeteria, and a large open room for physical therapy, life skills, and adaptive physical education for medically fragile/special needs students.

Building B will house the Information Center (media center/library), computer lab, counseling, and eight Kindergarten classrooms.

Building C will house 12 first through third classrooms.

Building D will house eight fourth and fifth-grade classrooms.

Building E will house eight science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) classrooms and two fourth and fifth-grade classrooms.

The project is primarily (approximately 80%) funded by a Department of Defense Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation grant. It is anticipated that the project will be completed in twenty-four months. (Excerpted from the Richmond School Replacement Mitigated Negative Declaration)

The original Richmond School opened on January 26, 1953. During construction, it was designated the “north school” and essentially the twin of the “south school,” later Vieweg School. Richmond School and Richmond Road were named for Commander John Richmond, who was called out of retirement to serve as “city manager” for the fledgling China Lake community by Captain Sherman E. Burroughs.  He and his wife were co-treasurers of the first PTA and were unyielding advocates of education.  Richmond Elementary School was less than one block from Richmond Road, yet was located at the corner of Wasp (later Halsey) and Kearsarge on fifteen acres at the original cost of $450,000.  The earthquakes of July 2019 closed the entire campus.  Fortunately, Vieweg School was available to house the entire Richmond student body.

The China Lake Elementary School District facilities construction program was orchestrated by Grant Pinney (father of Sergeant John Pinney, for whom Pinney Pool is named).

First, a teacher turned federal funding expert, Grant was one of five founders of the federal impact aid program, which helps to fund school districts lacking a sustainable tax base due to large non-taxed federal installations. An example of Grant Pinney’s legendary school construction legacy was the Richmond Annex, the special education building. Even today, it is not unusual for special needs students to be educated in otherwise aged, furloughed facilities.

Not Sierra Sands. Grant and Sierra Sands board president Doris Hammer lobbied hard and effectively to create a state-of-the-art facility for special needs students in the IWV and Trona.

Essentially a “blank check” federal project. Just steps away from the China Lake golf course, this facility had a 1,000-square-foot open central physical therapy space with top-of-line equipment comparable to the best of rehabilitation hospitals.

The facility educated students and toddlers through their 22nd birthdays. Graduation ceremonies were held for those turning 22.

The classrooms had the most recent technology equipment, and for the most severely disabled students, toilet training and bathing rooms were available. Designed in the late 1960s and constructed in the early 1970s, when isolation of special needs students was the norm, Richmond School was the exception.

Led by Special Education Coordinator Ron Rossi, Richmond School embraced integrating the “typical” and “special” populations to the benefit of both populations. Unfortunately, like much of the China Lake main site, this facility was destroyed by the earthquakes of 2019.

Principals of Richmond School were Harold Pierce (Burrough’s first football coach), Carl Jacobson, Stoney Wall, Dick McCown, Stan Kus, Bruce Auld (Attended Richmond first through fifth grade, BHS 1966), Jim Mendoza, Bev Estis (25 years), Elaine Littleton, Maureen Glennon, Joan Paine, and current Principal Michael Yancy.