Community input on Wa-Hi plans critical

Schools officials need to know what taxpayers want and what they are willing to fund.

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Walla Walla High School is simply not a sufficient facility to educate about 1,900 students. The nearly 50-year-old buildings are too small, the science labs are inadequate and the structures are not energy efficient, making them costly to maintain and too cold or too hot depending on the season.

Few in this community would disagree that something needs to be done.

But what?

Well, Walla Walla School District officials are now searching for an answer to that question. In the coming months Superintendent Mick Miller and district officials will be reaching out to citizens to get their thoughts on what should be done at Wa-Hi and how much of a property tax assessment they would be willing to accept.

School officials have been working with architects to come up with conceptual designs if Wa-Hi was essentially overhauled. The design plans, which can be found on a link at union-bulletin.com and at the school district's website (wwps.org), call for using the existing roofs and foundations for most buildings while completely redoing what's inside.

The focus of the renovations will be on classroom space and other academic buildings. Nevertheless, the district does provide drawings of a proposal to add a new track and an athletic field made of FieldTurf synthetic grass.

The athletic component of the project, if it moves forward, will be funded entirely with private money garnered through donations and grants.

The early cost estimate of the taxpayer-funded Wa-Hi renovation project is between $62 million and $67 million, of which more than $40 million would come from bonds that would have to be approved by voters. A large percentage of the additional money would come from state matching funds.

But these numbers are, like the conceptual designs posted, only a starting place for discussion. District officials and the School Board members have made no hard decisions regarding what will be built and how much the project will cost. In addition, no decision has been made on when a bond proposal would go to the voters.

In the past two months, Miller and architects have met with smaller groups to get reaction to the designs. Changes were made to the drawings as folks offered their views. Officials are listening -- and taking what they hear seriously.

Those who like what they see, hate what they see or who are lukewarm to concepts need to let officials know their feelings.

And district officials would be wise to follow up with people who weigh in -- especially those who oppose what they see -- so the project can be altered in a way that will satisfy a majority of the community.

To comment on the conceptual designs contact Superintendent Mick Miller at mmiller@wwps.org or 509-526-6714 and Mark Higgins, district communications director, at mhiggins@wwps.org or 509-526-6716


Wa-Hi Conceptual Designs Spring 2011

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