Walla Walla Public Schools eyes downtown for Homelink

The former home of Total Office Concepts could become the location for the district's homeschooling program.

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WALLA WALLA -- Homeschooling families who partner with Walla Walla Public Schools may be getting a home for the program.

Superintendent Mick Miller gave the Walla Walla School Board an update Tuesday night on the potential relocation of the Homelink program from Berney Elementary to a spacious and centrally-located building downtown.

Although not yet finalized, Miller said the district is working on a deal to lease the former Total Office Concepts retail space at Second Avenue and Poplar Street.

With about 17,000 square feet, the building would provide more than enough room for a program that serves close to 170 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Berney Elementary has been the site for Homelink for the last few years; Homelink uses dedicated space in the school. But as the program has grown each year, so has the need to find Homelink its own site, administrators said.

"The program has grown to the point where it has outgrown its Berney space," said district Communications Director Mark Higgins.

Homelink is a partnership program between the district and families who choose to home-school their children. Through Homelink, children enroll as Walla Walla Public Schools students, and can attend school two days out of the week for enrichment activities.

Moving Homelink to its own location would free up much needed classroom space at Berney. The proposed site has in its favor an ideal location to downtown resources, like the Walla Walla Public Library. There is also more space, and plenty of natural lighting that could benefit enrichment activities in arts or sciences.

But the move could also have potential drawbacks. Homelink students would no longer be in a traditional school setting, meaning no access to playing fields or gymnasium space directly on site, or meal services offered at public schools.

Miller said the district is still several steps away from finalizing a move to the downtown spot, but that preliminary discussions have been positive. The next phase is to work with a local architect and Homelink families to see if the proposed downtown spot can meet the program's needs.

Despite potential drawbacks, Miller said he saw the opportunity to move a district program downtown as a positive.

"For us to have a presence right downtown, I think it'd be a neat thing," he said.

Miller said the move would also be relatively low in costs. The district would lease the space, and money brought in from the state through Homelink students' enrollment in the district would offset that expense.

Assistant Superintendent Linda Boggs also said that because the space being looked at is so big, there is the potential to use some of the building for other district programs, like the recently launched Greenways Academy. Greenways, a new online course program offered through Walla Walla Public Schools, could potentially have a dedicated space at the site.

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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