Wa-Hi science building to go to voters


WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla School Board on Thursday passed a resolution to put a $10.2 million bond to build a new science building at Walla Walla High School before voters in the April 22 special election.

The vote came just a day before today’s deadline to file for the measure. The board voted 4-1, with David Hampson, who was appointed to the board in August, the lone dissenting vote.

The district, which has seen plans to renovate the entirety of Wa-Hi torpedoed by bond failures in 2006 and 2013, has now just 27 days before ballots are mailed on April 4 to convince 60 percent of voters — a supermajority — to accept the proposal.

“We have a lot of mechanisms in place to share information quickly,” said a confident Mark Higgins, the district’s spokesman. “That’s the beauty of the 21st Century. And we have been talking about this for a long time ... It’s a single, fairly focused project, so that will make it a little bit easier to educate people on what the project is.”

Progress toward a bond to renovate Wa-Hi had been stalled since November, when the district seemingly shelved a plan to completely renovate Wa-Hi in phases.

But since making the plan for a new, stand-alone science public during a Feb. 27 meeting with the Union-Bulletin’s editorial board, the district has moved quickly to meet today’s deadline to file the measure with the county auditor’s office to put on the April ballot.

The district’s Community Facilities Task Force recommended against moving forward on Monday, asking instead for more time to consider its options, but the board heard almost unanimous support from members of the public and district staff to move forward during a board meeting Tuesday.

District Superintendent Mick Miller, when recommending the proposal to the board, said the plan, “is one that is responsive to what our community is telling us, which is to focus on our greatest need and reduce cost.

“Those two things, combined with the strong possibility of additional science requirements — that’s in front of the state legislature at this moment — are ones that lead me to present this resolution and recommend it.”

Had the district missed the filing deadline for an April vote, it likely would have had to wait until next February to put forward another proposal, as August and November elections are typically not as favorable to school bonds.

If passed, the bond will increase property taxes an estimated 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The new building will house 10 classrooms, each 1,500-square feet, between the current science building and the Career and Technical Education building. The building site is currently occupied by a parking lot.

Miller said part of the money would be used to build a new parking lot elsewhere and part of it will fund additional site work to address federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“We have to be able to get access to the auditorium,” Miller said, “and in any project the math/science parking lot has to be eliminated. The safety issue of kids walking back and forth through an active parking lot is not a good thing.”

Because the science building would be new construction and not replacing other facilities, it will not receive state matching funds.

Hampson spoke for about six minutes before casting his vote against the proposal.

“What I have really discovered is there’s not a consensus,” Hampson said of his of talks with residents. “There’s a broad, diverse range of opinion with very strong opposing views. That’s made my decision very difficult. If all of the caring, passionate people were unified, I would have slept last night.”

He also spoke about the value of the facilities task force, which recommended against the district moving forward with an April ballot.

“Sometimes when we need to accomplish things that need to be done, it requires handing the ball to someone that has passion and heart and soul, who can take that ball and go with it.,” Hampson said. “... And other times, the way to accomplish something is through the incredibly difficult, frustrating, slow, hair-pulling process of democracy, where you have a large group of people, with passion and emotion and frustration, hammer out the issues until they come to a conclusion.”

But Dan Reid, who chairs the facilities task force, said he supports the board’s decision, despite the task force’s recommendation.

“Ultimately there’s momentum building out there to move forward,” Reid said, “and I think they’ve made the right decision to move forward now. The only hesitation from the committee was that it could be a larger bond. Everyone is in favor of a Wa-Hi bond, but the committee felt that if we spent more time studying it, we could have got voters to approve a larger bond.”

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.



Myinput says...

It will fail - again.

Posted 7 March 2014, 9:55 p.m. Suggest removal

fatherof5 says...

The day after the vote, the district posted [this page][1] with links to the bond resolution and the breakdown of costs, plus a ton of other information.

This bond is:

- reflective of what most agree is the greatest need at Wa-Hi,

- responsive to the clear will of the voters to run these projects in smaller phases (made clear by multiple surveys),

- supported almost unanimously by the numerous community members in
attendance at the decisive Tuesday board meeting (the ONLY objection raised was that the bond wasn't large enough)

- now supported by the chair of the facilities task force

.......given all of this, I don't see why the community would not unify behind this. It is what the vast majority of voters said they wanted.

[1]: http://www.wwps.org/wahi-bond-2014

Posted 7 March 2014, 11:32 p.m. Suggest removal

fatherof5 says...

....and most importantly, this will give a tangible boost to the quality of science education for our kids!

Posted 7 March 2014, 11:51 p.m. Suggest removal

rider says...

10 classrooms are needed for one subject? Appears the building will be used for multi-purposes. Also interesting that additional projects have crept into the project.

Posted 8 March 2014, 6:40 a.m. Suggest removal

fatherof5 says...

I think your comment, mspinks, regarding "10 classrooms...needed for one subject" is a revealing indicator that the district will need to do a good job in the upcoming month of explaining just what a huge school Wa-Hi really is. It's hard to fathom from the outside if you don't have kids there. As Doceo explains below, there are currently 11 full time science teachers, plus the Ag and CTE programs offer science courses.

There are no "additional projects" beyond simply replacing the lost parking spots nearby and creating access to the area.

Posted 9 March 2014, 10:33 p.m. Suggest removal

wwguy7 says...

I agree that a lot of voters don't quite understand the scope of what Wa Hi does and how large it is. I also don't think enough tax payers have invested the time to go tour the facilities at Wa Hi and see how dilapidated they truly are.

With that being said, I still belive that most voters are not comfortable with the uncertainty surrounding how many kids wll be loist from Wa Hi to CP High School. I think this will be the biggest hurdle for this bond to overcome.

Posted 10 March 2014, 3:58 p.m. Suggest removal

fatherof5 says...

Wwguy, it appears that there is just a lot of explaining to do. As you indicated, one concept that hasn't connected with some voters yet is that the loss of 350 kids to CP doesn't really have anything to do with this bond (or the last one either).

What Wa-Hi needs are classrooms that wont impede high quality learning. That doesn't change with 1,500 students or 1,850 students. The science classrooms are still terrible regardless of how many kids go to CP. There will still be 30-32 kids in a class without proper ventilation, sinks, or other necessary infrastructure. The single-pane windows are still single-pane. The H-VAC system is still not there. And so on. (This bond doesn't address those latter two.) Losing kids to CP has effectively nothing to do with what this bond addresses.

Posted 10 March 2014, 5:32 p.m. Suggest removal

wwguy7 says...

You're correct. But I believe that this wasn't conveyed by the district during the last bond. It seemed that they were pushing the overcrowding issue and the need for bigger classrooms. Whether you like it or not, this is going to be on the front of the minds of the voters during this bond also.

Posted 11 March 2014, 8:33 a.m. Suggest removal

fatherof5 says...

It's a good point, wwguy7.

Posted 12 March 2014, 9:34 p.m. Suggest removal

Iopine says...

Rewritten from letter to the editor:

Perspective: Hypothetically - The District wants to put up 10 - 30' x 50' classrooms at a million dollars a piece. The District will be losing 600 to 800 students from College Place. If the class size is at 10 students (extremely low end) for 2 hours a period per quarter you will have 40 students per day and 400 students per quarter. This gives each student a 10' x 15' education area. At the end of the year you have educated 1600 students from the science department.

I also understand that equipment and resources will be a part of this construction but do they equip every room with graduating resources or will some be equipped with entry level equipment? I guess as someone stated the bond has to pass to find out what's in it?

With the loss of students to College Place I didn't realize there was such an influx of students attending Wa-Hi? As I stated the above is a hypothetical but I don't understand the logic of this School District and if common sense comes around I hope its soon.

Posted 8 March 2014, 7:42 a.m. Suggest removal

wwguy7 says...

I think the realistic number is closer to 350. I believe the yearly average of CP students attending Wa Hi is just south of 400.

Posted 10 March 2014, 3:59 p.m. Suggest removal

Doceo says...

In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently a physics teacher at Walla Walla High School so I certainly have an interest in the completion of this project. At first I was shocked by the $10,000,000 figure for a 10 classroom building. $1,000,000 per classroom how could that be? Fortunately, the district has published a bond fact sheet so I was able to find a bit of clarity (True Story). It turns out that the construction costs for a 25,000 square foot building and parking lot is $7,408,280. When the cost of the parking lot is removed the cost per square foot is $276.34. It is interesting to note that homeowners will also pay $659,337 in taxes on the project. The remaining development costs can be found on the Bond Fact Sheet.

Currently there are 11 full time science teachers on staff at Wa-Hi. Next year the number of science teachers will be reduced to 10 as we begin to adjust for College Place High School coming online. Additionally, we have 3 outstanding vocational teachers teaching cross credited science courses such as forensics. Currently there are 6 teachers teaching science in non-lab facilities. One of our biology teachers is teaching full time in a room without a sink! The students and teacher are required to utilize a bathroom in a locker lobby to clean equipment.

When College Place High School is in full operation we can expect between 300 and 400 fewer students. Preliminary numbers indicate that the reduction will be closer to 300 rather than 400. As a partial offset to the loss of students to College Place, the state legislature is on the cusp of increasing science requirements from 2 credits to 3 credits which will increase the number of students enrolled in science courses. I hope my comments have added relevant information to the discussion.

Posted 8 March 2014, 9:42 a.m. Suggest removal

barracuda says...

So, am I correct? (using your figures) There is $659,337 in taxes earmarked for the building already? Where are these funds coming from? Are they reducing the funding from other areas, i.e. sports, math, P.E. etc? What happens to these monies if this project fails? And if these monies were taken from other areas, I question why it was going to those projects already.......

Also, is this a already parking lot rebuilt or a truly new lot?

Posted 8 March 2014, 9:56 a.m. Suggest removal

Doceo says...

Hi, the taxes are sales taxes that would only be incurred as a result of the passage of the bond. The proposed building actually would sit in the parking lot that is in between the current "science" building and the vocational building. The new parking lot would be behind the vocational building. To reiterate the sales tax would not kick unless the bond passes and construction takes place. The sales tax is written in to the Project Development Costs.

The current parking lot is a bit treacherous in that students are crossing the parking lot 8 times a day to move between the vocational building and the science current science building. This can make for a bit of hazardous travel as sometimes pedestrians and drivers are not as alert as they should be. Great question and I hope I was able to clarify. Thanks.

Posted 8 March 2014, 11:57 a.m. Suggest removal

barracuda says...

Thanks. I thought it was already allocated taxes.... Sorry for the confusion.

Posted 8 March 2014, 2:17 p.m. Suggest removal

Iopine says...

Doceo - a little confusion - you state that the taxes are coming from a sales tax that will kick in upon the passage of the bond? Does that mean there will be an increase in sales tax or taken from the sales tax in force? If it is a sales tax increase they will probably be pushing more revenue to Oregon?

Posted 10 March 2014, 2:04 p.m. Suggest removal

dereksarley says...

namvet60, as we discussed on Sunday, there's no new sales tax. It's simply a cost the District must pay on construction, the same way you and I pay sales tax when we go out and buy a pack of paper towels.

Posted 10 March 2014, 3:44 p.m. Suggest removal

Iopine says...

OK - got cha - the way it was stated was little confusing. Thanks

Posted 10 March 2014, 3:55 p.m. Suggest removal

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