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Rainier School again targeted by Legislature; local delegation prepares to fight

The seemingly never-ending battle to keep Rainier School open and alive has reared its head once again.

A bill dropped in the state Senate hopper last week specifically targets Rainier School – along with the Frances Haddon Morgan Center in Bremerton – for closure.

The bipartisan bill is jointly sponsored by Sen. Joseph Zarelli, a Republican from Ridgefield, and Sen. Margarita Prentice, a Democrat from Renton.

A consortium of Pierce County power brokers, including members of the state Legislature and representatives from County Executive Pat McCarthy’s office, met Friday to craft an opposition strategy. State Sen. Pam Roach, whose 31st Legislative District includes the Rainier School campus, hosted the session.

Roach said the close-Rainier maneuver, spelled out in Senate Bill 5943, came as a surprise. When the Legislature met for a one-day special session late last year, it was believed two of the state’s five institutions could be targeted, but none were named specifically. A good sign, Roach said, came when Gov. Chris Gregoire did not earmark Rainier School for closure in her proposed budget.

The real twist to the story, Roach said, came Thursday when she questioned Zarelli. He said he included Rainier School for closure at the governor’s request.

Roach has long advocated not only keeping Rainier School open, but expanding the grounds to fully take advantage of all the facility’s resources. She has said the institution could provide respite services for those who care full-time for the developmentally disabled, for example; another option would be to expand the dental facility on the grounds, she maintains.

“Rainier School needs to be a premier facility with a long-term commitment,” she said.

Roach argues that Rainier School must remain open to meet the needs of the developmentally disabled and give families a choice when it comes to permanent care. But the reality, she said, is Rainier School’s fate is tied to dollars and cents.

In keeping with that thought, supporters last week drafted an economic impact study, showing the fiscal hit the Plateau region would take should the institution be shuttered. It was noted Rainier School is the second largest employer in Buckley and closure of the institution would impact 300 of the 1,200 local households.

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