Rainier School targeted for closure

A bombshell fell Thursday and landed in the middle of the Rainier School campus in Buckley.

The state’s Office of Financial Management was charged with reviewing a variety of state institutions and, through the advice of a paid consultant, has suggested Rainier School be phased out of existence by 2017.

“This is a call to arms,” said State Rep. Christopher Hurst, whose 31st District takes in Buckley.

Hurst said the consultant looked at both prisons and residential habilitation facilities like Rainier School. The OFM report, when finalized, will be issued to both the governor’s office and the state Legislature; a draft version was released Thursday and a final edition is due by Nov. 1.

“There probably will be some consolidation that comes out of the work they’ve done,” Hurst said.

Even though it was only a draft report distributed last week, he said, the time to act is now.

“As a general idea, I’m very opposed to this,” Hurst said, explaining he’ll be rounding up key players to fight the suggestion that Rainier School residents be moved to smaller, community-based facilities.

“We’re going to have to get folks mobilized,” Hurst said, noting that a first step will be contacting Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson, members of the Buckley City Council and Rainier School employees. His advice is to write letters to Gov. Chris Gregoire, letting everyone know the Buckley facility should be untouchable – “and the sooner the better.”

Hurst maintains the idea of closing Rainier School is wrong on two fronts.

First and foremost, he said, is the trauma it would cause for Rainier School residents and their families.

Many residents, Hurst said, are simply not suited for life outside the Rainier School walls.

“It would put them at enormous risk of being victimized,” he said. “Rainier School provides a safe environment.”

Hurst knows some are sincere in their belief that residents would do better elsewhere, but, he said, “they’re simply wrong.”

Taking the offensive, he said “some of the language in the report is simply offensive.” The authors, he said, “have no idea what the RHCs are or the service they provide.”

Another consideration is the economic shock wave that would be felt through the local economy, Hurst said.

Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson hammered home the economic angle, pointing out that 300 Rainier School employees live in Buckley and 1,000 employees call the Plateau home.

“Where are we going to get a thousand jobs?” she asked, wondering aloud about the impact that many unemployed workers would have.

Johnson made no effort to hide her anger, emphasizing that the authors of the report are out of touch with the world of the developmentally disabled.

“The way we care for the developmentally disabled has changed over the years,” she said, “and we need more places like Rainier School.”

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