Wednesday, October 10, 2012
WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla School Board is nearing making a decision on whether to seek a bond next year to upgrade Walla Walla High School.
Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Mick Miller, speaking to the board during an Oct. 2 work session, said board members would need to approve a resolution by their Nov. 6 meeting if the district is to pursue a bond in the spring.
The district has spent the last year designing and promoting a vision for upgrades at the high school that preserves the school’s design, while also addressing technology upgrades, energy efficiency and space problems. Conceptual drawings, drafted by architects from BLRB/USKH, have been available for the public to review.
Yet the effort to see Wa-Hi remodeled and improved goes back further. Miller, who joined the district in 2010, began the work session by recalling the failed 2006 bond that included improving Wa-Hi. Serving about 1,800 students and built in 1964, Wa-Hi is in need of expanded classrooms, more efficient heating and cooling and rewiring to make it more suitable for today’s learning needs.
The 2006 bond’s failure became an opportunity for the district to listen to community members’ views and concerns regarding district facilities. After its listening campaign, the district rebuilt Edison Elementary School through a 2007 bond, and built a new transportation cooperative and a new support services building.
A High School Facilities Task Force was also convened during that time, and spent a year researching the needs at Walla Walla and Lincoln high schools.
Following up on the work of the task force was one of Miller’s first tasks after taking over the district. But by March 2011 a clear vision for Wa-Hi was still not in place, and Miller recommended the board wait to seek a bond until later that year or in early 2012. In the meantime, BLRB/USKH architects worked on the conceptual design for the high school. The result is a proposed overhaul of Wa-Hi that makes the current buildings bigger by using existing frames and roof structures, yet preserves the brick exteriors and open-campus feel.
The momentum to put a Wa-Hi bond to voters was halted again this spring when College Place residents in April approved a bond that will establish that city’s first public high school, ending years of College Place high school students attending Walla Walla High School. As a result, Wa-Hi stands to lose about 350 students over the next few years, as well as any financial contribution from College Place residents for a Wa-Hi bond.
Architects were then asked to modify the Wa-Hi plans to bring down costs. The result is four proposals Miller presented to the board during the work session. The options range in taxpayer share from $46 million to $56.8 million. The more expensive plan includes a remodel to the school’s gym and track, and one plan contains an expanded career and technical education building. The $46 million proposal — the one that appeared to be favored by Miller and board members — had only minor improvements to the CTE building and no improvements to the school’s track or gym.
Miller said even if a bond passes in the spring, the district would not be able to start construction until about June 2014. With a 30-month construction timeline, a new Wa-Hi would not be completed until 2017.
Miller also stressed that all state dollars would go to bringing down the project’s cost as opposed to being used on other projects in the district.