College Place voters sign off on high school

The measure gained 61 percent approval in Tuesday's count and the margin is likely to hold up in further counts.

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COLLEGE PLACE -- College Place voters have narrowly approved a measure to rebuild Davis Elementary and establish a public high school.

Preliminary results from the Walla Walla County Auditor's Office show nearly 61 percent of voters in favor of the $38.5 million project, with 2,048 residents in favor and 1,310 opposed. Through Tuesday, 3,358 votes had been counted in the special election, and about 47 ballots were left to count, the election office reported.

The next vote count is Friday, and results will be certified April 27.

College Place School Board Chairman Doug Case said this morning he remained cautiously optimistic until all the ballots have been counted. But he said if trends of past levies and bonds hold true, the majority will likely hold or potentially rise.

"(The) 60.99 is a good number, but I think there's still a lot of votes to be counted out there," Case said.

If the results do hold steady, the election marks a turning point for College Place Public Schools, and a triumph for members of the College Place School Board.

The board has been trying for years to address the needs at Davis Elementary, which is aged and run down, while also considering strong community desire for a high school.

A 2009 proposal to rebuild Davis Elementary that did not address the high school issue failed twice.

Meanwhile, the Walla Walla School District unveiled in 2011 conceptual designs to remodel and modernize Walla Walla High School. Any bond proposal for Wa-Hi would have required financial support from College Place residents, since College Place students attend high school in Walla Walla.

A potential Wa-Hi bond then became an opportunity for College Place to seek its own high school district. The College Place School Board agreed rather than wait for the Wa-Hi bond, to seek its own high school district while seeking to rebuild Davis.

About 400 students from College Place attend Wa-Hi.

College Place Public Schools Superintendent Tim Payne echoed the need to be cautiously optimistic. He also believed the significance of the vote was not being fully recognized.

"The fact that it revolutionizes a community is huge," Payne said.

"This really speaks well for the school disrict, from the board straight down to classified, administrators, about the direction we are trying to go. That's solid support for the school disrict. I appreciate the community's faith and confidence and vision."

The project will rebuild Davis Elementary at is current site to accommodate two additional grades with room to grow.

Meadow Brook Intermediate School and Sager Middle School, which rest on the same campus along South College Avenue, will be converted into the city's middle school and high school through remodeling and some new construction.

State matching funds are expected to bring in $10.88 million, for a total project cost of about $49.4 million.

College Place high school students will be phased into the new high school, with ninth grade added first and one additional grade added each year, over four years.

A new Davis Elementary and city high school are still a few years away. Once election results are certified, the district will enter its design phase, with construction estimated to start in July 2013. The new facilites would open for the 2015-16 school year.

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