Walla Walla Public Schools support services facility taking shape

A replacement for the site on Park Street is in the early phases and is expected to wrap up in February.

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Windows lining the side of a school bus reflect construction work on the Walla Walla School District's new support services building on Entley Street. With the first phase of the project complete, the district's new transportation hub, work on the support services building has begun. Wednesday, July 21, 2010

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WALLA WALLA -- Work is moving forward on Walla Walla Public Schools new support services building, which should be finished by early next year.

Located on about 9 acres, the new facility, at about 28,500 square feet, will be a drastic change from the district's current site, an aged 17,000-square-foot complex across from the YMCA on Park Street that also houses the district's transportation department.

Work on the support services building began earlier this summer, with much of the framing already completed. The new building is going up beside the Southeast Washington Transportation Cooperative, the first phase of the construction project that was finished earlier this year. The cooperative has replaced the district's transportation department, which was transformed into a co-op to streamline services with other districts and save money while qualifying for state matching dollars.

Moving the support services site, one of the district's oldest buildings in the most need of repair, had been included in a School District bond measure that voters crushed in a special election in 2006. That election saw more than 50 percent of voters turn out, and nearly 60 percent opposed the measure, which also included replacing Edison Elementary and the former Paine School and modernizing Walla Walla High School.

The support services project got new life when the district put the $19.5 million Edison Elementary project to voters in February 2007. With that bond's approval the district also secured $3.4 million in state matching money that the district set aside for other district needs.

That summer, the district spent just under $900,000 from its capital projects fund to buy 9.2 acres along Entley Street, where the co-op is located and the support services facility is being built.

Also in 2007, the district sold the property and land at 325 S. Park St. to the YMCA, across the street on Park, for $580,000. The sale included a five-year lease to the district for $1 a year to give time for the completion of the Entley project.

Familiar with the concept of transportation cooperatives, former superintendent Rich Carter sought to turn the district's transportation department into a co-op. After reaching out to surrounding districts, he secured the support of Dixie and Prescott districts as well as Educational Service District 123 in Pasco -- enough partners to get the co-op off the ground. Walla Walla is the host district of the Southeast Washington Transportation Cooperative, and provides maintenance and repairs of school buses and other vehicles to its partner districts.

The state matching money from the Edison project was used to get the facility built, and combined with the cost of the land, the district got about $4 million from the state. That money then went to building the support services site.

Officials hope to have the construction work done by February. YMCA executive director Randy Grant said he expects to start work on the old Park Street site by late summer or early fall of 2011.

Grant said his agency will seek input from the public on how to develop the land once the School District makes the big move. Although there are no formal plans to date, some ideas have already been put out, he said.

"People want more rehab, more outdoor pools, child care, youth recreation," he said. "Those are all topics that people have certainly volunteered as a formal solution."

In the meantime, the site will be beautified.

"The intent is we'll knock it all down, put in grass for one to three years, then have a green space while we formalize it," he said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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