Ideas weighed for scaled-down Walla Walla High School upgrades

School officials are focusing on ways to trim project development and other costs.

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WALLA WALLA — Ideas for scaling back plans to improve Walla Walla High School facilities that would focus on reducing project development costs were discussed in a meeting Tuesday.

The School Board continued a conversation with the community at the meeting, held to consider ways to move forward with facility needs after voters rejected a $69.6 million proposal earlier this year. About 20 people attended, including district representatives and board members, and offered thoughts on how to present the Wa-Hi proposal differently.

The district has been working off suggestions presented during a Feb. 26 work session, where about 70 residents offered suggestions and criticisms of the proposal voters defeated on Feb. 12.

About 53 percent of voters supported the project, which had a $48 million local share and the remainder in state funding. A 60 percent super-majority was needed for the bond to pass.

Following the bond’s defeat, School Board members and district officials have heard primarily that the project had been too large in scope and too expensive. The district also heard about opportunities for better communication and outreach on the school’s greatest needs, and on how to rebuild trust with community members who have grown distrustful of the district.

The lumping of nearly $20 million in development costs — which include sales tax, architect and consultant fees, a contingency balance, furniture and fixtures, and other soft costs — may have been part of what turned voters off to the original plan.

Superintendent Mick Miller said on Tuesday the district would do a better job itemizing those amounts for a future project. He noted that items like paying through local sales taxes, currently at 8.9 percent, are not an option.

The ideas, which were all preliminary, ranged from building a new science building on the campus and saving other updates for later on, to doing the initially proposed project at a lower cost through cuts.

Miller’s suggestions during the meeting ranged from about $12 million — the approximate cost to build a new science building — to about $42 million for doing the same project without the track and with cuts in development costs. The dollar amounts would represent the local share.

The district could also cut out any updates to the Career and Technical Education building and the music building, to bring costs down further. The idea would be to phase in the other aspects of the plan over time.

Miller also looked to bring attention to the need for a new Wa-Hi track, with a replacement cost of about $654,000. Miller and board members stressed that the need for a new track is urgent.

Walla Walla School Board President Anne Golden said the board’s next step would be to hold a board work session some time in May. The district is looking at potentially trying again for a bond in November.

Minutes from the Feb. 26 work session are available online at www.wwps.org.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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