Decision to seek College Place high school impacts Wa-Hi's future

A possible change in Wa-Hi enrollment would change a Wa-Hi bond proposal.

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Tuesday's decision by the College Place School Board to ask voters this spring to approve a bond to build its own high school has ripple effects throughout the Valley.

The Walla Walla School District has been considering asking voters to approve an overhaul of Wa-Hi this spring. The College Place move is cause to consider delaying a Wa-Hi bond request.

Right now College Place doesn't have a high school so about 400 of its students attend Wa-Hi, which has an enrollment of just over 1,900.

Given that one of the major concerns about the current Wa-Hi facility is overcrowding, why would Walla Walla voters agree to approve bonds from $20 million to $40 million for a school that could have 400 fewer students? The enrollment of the school is critical in determining exactly what changes will be made in gutting and overhauling the buildings on the Wa-Hi campus.

Now it's clear to us the Wa-Hi facility, whether enrollment is 1,900 or 1,500, is outdated and in need of a major overhaul.

In addition, Lincoln Alternative High School, housed at the crumbling Paine School, needs a new building. It is hoped by some that a Wa-Hi project could be structured so some of the bond money or matching state funding could be used to give Lincoln a new home.

Over the last year or so some have been pointing to this spring as a good time to ask voters to give approval for the project. Unfortunately, the Great Recession has lasted longer than the experts had predicted. The economy still feels soft in the Walla Walla Valley.

Frankly, it would have been difficult to get approval for a Wa-Hi project this spring. It is even harder now.

College Place also faces a challenge getting a bond approved for a new high school.

But the economic conditions may not be as significant. College Place property owners must pay their share of bonds issued for construction of a Wa-Hi their children attend or face having their district merged with Walla Walla. Talk of a Wa-Hi overhaul has forced the conversation of whether it might be prudent for College Place to have its own school rather than to help pay for a new Wa-Hi.

That, essentially, is the question College Place voters will be asked when a proposal for the new high school goes before them.

The details of a College Place high school have yet to be agreed upon, but the discussion will likely be a vigorous one in that community. And it's likely to spill over into Walla Walla.

What College Place voters decide in the spring will have a dramatic impact on a new Wa-Hi.

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