Friday, March 7, 2014
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8315.