Conceptual design of the Wa-Hi modernization plan.
WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla School Board has agreed to pursue a $48 million bond to modernize and update Walla Walla High School.
A state match would bring the total project cost to $69.6 million, said Mark Higgins, school district spokesman.
Board members on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to seek a facilities bond during a special election Feb. 12, 2013. Although meeting needs at Lincoln High School had been part of recent conversations, the proposal will address Wa-Hi only. But Lincoln will remain on the top of the list, the board said.
The decision to move forward caps nearly two years of working with architects to draft a design vision for Wa-Hi that stays true to the school’s character while making needed improvements.
The project would use existing roof structures and framing while expanding classrooms and making them safer to access, more spacious, better wired for learning and energy efficient.
The district hired architectural firms BLRB/USKH in early 2011 to begin work on the Wa-Hi proposal. But potential bond plans were halted earlier this year after College Place voters approved a bond to establish a high school. The passage of that bond, which will also rebuild Davis Elementary School, will end an era of College Place high school students attending Wa-Hi.
As a result, Wa-Hi stands to lose about 350 students starting about 2017.
The Walla Walla district spent the ensuing months revising its proposal to reflect the potential decrease in enrollment, and to adjust for lost revenue from College Place residents, who would have been asked to approve their share of a Wa-Hi bond.
Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Mick Miller told the board the bond would cost property owners about 68 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a $150,000 home, that would amount to $102 per year.
The current School District rate of $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed value would go up to $1.95 per $1,000 through 2018. Residents would then see the tax rate drop to $1.15 per $1,000. Walla Walla Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Pat Johnston said the reason the rate will drop in about six years is because the Edison Elementary project bond will be paid off in that time. The district is also poised to pay off its Sharpstein bond next month.
Miller’s recommendation included a need to develop a more specific plan for Lincoln. Miller also said there is language in the resolution stating that any excess funds from the project will go toward Lincoln improvements.
Board members Anne Golden, Cindy Meyer, Max Carrera and Ruth Ladderud each spoke in support of the Wa-Hi proposal as the right plan, yet also spoke about the need to keep Lincoln’s priorities high. Board member Dan Hess was absent Tuesday.
“I do want some assurance that we have an action plan … that we’re doing something with Lincoln,” Carrera said.