School Board needs direction to build a Wa-Hi renovation plan

If a community consensus can’t be reached by spring, perhaps the project should be put on hold to give voters time to ponder options.


The Walla Walla School Board needs to give itself and the community more time to come up with the right plan to renovate all or part of the high school.

Tuesday the School Board held another public work session to hear what people wanted to see and what they would be willing to fund. In addition, the Board wants to know what the objections are to the various concepts being considered for Wa-Hi — from rebuilding the entire school in two phases to focusing on only one or two of the most pressing needs (such as the science building).

Those who opposed this year’s failed $48 million bond measure (68 cents per $1,000 of property value) did not make an appearance. Instead, the room was filled with about 20 people, the five School Board members as well as administrators, faculty and a few community members — all of whom indicated they would like to see extensive renovation.

It’s not possible to use one meeting to read the pulse of Walla Walla. However, the lack of participation is a concern.

School District Superintendent Mick Miller wisely urged caution in moving too quickly without a clear vision of what the community wants.

There’s simply not enough time to do the necessary work to come up with a plan that’s a slam dunk to be approved in time to make the February ballot.

The deadline to get a plan on the ballot is Dec. 27.

“I just at this point haven’t felt a real groundswell of momentum toward moving quickly to an election,” Miller said in his opening statement to those in attendance. “In fact, I’ve been feeling quite the opposite.”

In addition, he warned that the district cannot afford to have the next bond proposal fail.

“You don’t want to get into the cycle of bond fail, bond fail, bond fail. That’s something that’s hard to get out of,” Miller said.

We agree. Another failure could paint the Board and administration as out of touch.

And while we do not believe that to be true, in politics — and this is politics — perception is reality.

Perhaps the School Board should target the April 22 ballot if it can agree on the right proposal — one that has at least 65 percent support in a scientific poll.

The options the Board wants the public to consider should be varied in scope and cost. The eventual loss of 350 students to College Place High, which begins in the fall of 2014 with a freshmen class, has to be factored in.

But if it’s clear the community will accept nothing (and that’s possible), it might be prudent to take a year or so to let the issue cool and let the voters ponder Wa-Hi’s future on their own.

Yes, we would like to see work at Wa-Hi begin sooner rather than later.

But the most prudent approach if a clear community consensus can’t be found is to take a break and revisit this vexing issue with fresh eyes at a later time.


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