Vote on Walla Walla High School bond to wait

The superintendent says May is too soon to ask voters to pay for an overhaul of the high school.

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WALLA WALLA -- The Walla Walla School Board will wait a bit longer before asking voters for a bond to fix Walla Walla High School.

After weeks of discussions and studying whether to seek a bond during a special election in May, Superintendent Mick Miller recommended the board wait until next school year before seeking a bond that would renovate Wa-Hi to address a number of facility needs.

"We're not ready," Miller told the board in making his recommendation. Miller said more time is needed to conduct outreach in the community, and better illustrate the true needs of students at the high school.

More specifics on a potential bond will develop in the coming months. Although Miller said the 2011-12 school year would be a better time to seek a bond, he said he wasn't sure if seeking it earlier in the year or later would be best.

The board has several options for dates for a potential bond. A bond could go to voters in November, or wait until the following spring. The timing of a bond would have to work with the district seeking renewal of its maintenance and operations levy in February 2012.

By waiting, the board is also gaining more time to gauge whether the community will support a small, medium or larger-sized bond to rebuild Wa-Hi. Tentative figures have put the three proposals at $10 million, $25 million or $45 million. The smaller bonds, however, would require subsequent bonds to complete the scope of work needed at Wa-Hi and Lincoln Alternative High School, which would be rebuilt using state matching dollars.

Board member Cindy Meyer agreed with Miller's recommendation, and said the potential of seeking the bond in May had felt too rushed.

"We want to do it right, we want to do it well," she said.

In the next few weeks, the board will likely see a final conceptual design of what the new Wa-Hi would look like, as drafted by BLRB/USKH Architects, the collaborative firms selected by the board to work on the Wa-Hi and Lincoln project.

Architects have spent the past few weeks working with a High School Planning Committee to develop a vision for Wa-Hi that preserves its layout, look and feel, while making it more functional for education and accessibility.

Despite waiting on the bond, the district may still be moving forward with another improvement at the high school. Replacing the Wa-Hi track is expected to be discussed during one of the board's April meetings. The district is exploring replacing the cinder track, which is not currently used regularly for practices or meets.

Miller had previously said the district spends about $30,000 a year in transportation taking students to and from Martin Field, where track practice and meets are held. The district would use $150,000 in a reserve account from a Stubblefield Trust donation for the improvement, together with general fund money. Miller said money used from the general fund would be recouped from transportation savings in about 10 years.

The track improvement would require a board vote, which Miller said could potentially come in May.

If it moves forward, the Wa-Hi track could be updated over the summer, at the same time Walla Walla County plans improvements of Reser Road between Howard and Fern streets that will bring sidewalks, better accessibility and better storm drainage to the north side of the road.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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