New Wa-Hi plan must be built on consensus

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The $69.6 million proposal to overhaul Walla Walla High School was not approved Tuesday, but Wa-Hi’s facility problems are not gone — and will only grow worse over time.

The School Board has no choice but to put another proposal before the voters.

But the Board must make many tough decisions before making another run at renovating Wa-Hi or any other school facility.

Although voters did not fully embrace the Wa-Hi proposal for a variety of reasons, the most consistent objection that bubbled to the top of most conversations was a belief the project was too large and the price tag too high in today’s uncertain economy. In addition, looming questions regarding what impact College Place High School will have on Wa-Hi’s enrollment and its facilities haunted the proposal.

Walla Walla School District officials were confident they had done a solid job of getting the pulse of the community before moving forward with the bond request. In hindsight, it seems a communication gap exists between school officials and voters. The bond measure was approved by 53.3 percent of voters, falling short of the 60 percent supermajority needed for approval.

School Board members and community supporters of overhauling Wa-Hi must work even harder to get a realistic, unvarnished read of the public’s feelings. This means reaching out to those who have been critics of the Wa-Hi project (or the school district in general). Public meetings need to be run in a way that make it clear it’s OK — even encouraged — to offer differing opinions and approaches. Nobody should feel uncomfortable offering their opinions.

School officials need to hear a wide variety of views, including many things they won’t necessarily like to craft a Wa-Hi proposal that will win approval.

This isn’t the first time a bond proposal has been a tough sell in Walla Walla.

The effort to build a new Green Park Elementary School was shot down by voters three times before it was finally approved in 1991 — with whopping 80 percent support. The bond was finally approved when the community came to a consensus over nearly a decade of debate and bond elections that a new Green Park should be built. It had to look like the old school and it had to be at the right price.

The School Board has concluded — and we believe correctly — the community wants a new, modern Wa-Hi that has the same look and feel of Wa-Hi’s open campus. That’s a place to start.

Where this project might have veered off track is in its size and cost.

Perhaps voters would prefer to rebuild and modernize Wa-Hi a few buildings at a time. Or it could be some voters feel strongly that some buildings at Wa-Hi are desperately in need of a makeover — the science building for example — while other areas should not be touched.

To build a community consensus, the Board must seek public comment from a wide spectrum of voters willing to offer honest views.

Comments

Myinput 1 year, 2 months ago

It was disappointing to see that the bond failed, but not a surprise.

As for the community forums and etc. I say pass on that. It feels like they are going through the motions to appease the community but they are never genuine. It's not sincere. Very political. Move on from these.

I say, let's give the community a break and see how things shake out with the College Place High School.

Walla Walla WILL support renovating Wa-Hi, but timing is everything and the time and the price was NOT right. It's a bummer for all the kids.

My suggestion: Lay low. Stop hitting up the tax payers for bonds and levys for a bit - and that includes Lincoln.

The SD needs to tighten their belts and find the money in the budget to renovate some things without asking us for money. Create some good will and maybe the community will meet you half way. :)

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namvet60 1 year, 2 months ago

An excellent editorial - I commend the writer of this piece - for the day just stated that Common Sense won!

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barracuda 1 year, 2 months ago

RE: "School Board members and community supporters of overhauling Wa-Hi must work even harder to get a realistic, unvarnished read of the public’s feelings. This means reaching out to those who have been critics of the Wa-Hi project (or the school district in general). Public meetings need to be run in a way that make it clear it’s — even encouraged — to offer differing opinions and approaches. Nobody should feel uncomfortable offering their opinions." * THIS IS SPOT ON!
*

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I also believe there should be a official spokesman (to be indentified as such) on these blogs... Not one who makes the bloggers feel degraded or "ANTI-CHILDREN'' for feeling like your questions and/or feelings were something different from what he/she feels! I am sure some people voted the way they did because of these constant be-littling entry's. I am sure that the constant bantering between some of the bloggers (Sorry to say, I am included in this group) were a turn off for a lot of people! I am truly sorry for this.

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fatherof5 1 year, 2 months ago

barracuda, I agree with you that having an official district spokesperson who responds to blogs and such would be a good idea. There were so many aspects of this bond that were either mischaracterized or misunderstood by some of its critics. It is good to have someone who can objectively state the facts and explain the background behind some of the recommendations. Of course, this was done by the superintendent during his numerous presentations, and by Mr. Peterson during his school tours, but online comment sections such as this can reach a different audience and can be used to respond specifically to issues raised. So, I think you have a good idea.

Clarifying issues is one thing...and then there is the matter of upholding respectful, civil discourse. Some people on this forum and in their letters have such an anti-government point of view that they fail to distinguish some of the corrupted national politicians from our locally-elected school board members, who volunteer their time and talents to do the best they can to honestly serve our community and its children. That doesn't make the Board infallible, but it should at least earn them some respect as we debate the issues. We elect them to discern for us, since most of us do not have the time or opportunity to become experts on the issues facing our schools. The fact that after the failure of the 2006 bond, they gathered the relevant stakeholders, formed a committee, and solicited feedback from the public, and then significantly revised this bond accordingly should be appreciated. The personal attacks were uncalled for.

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fatherof5 1 year, 2 months ago

(continued) I, and a few others, endeavored to clear up factual misperceptions as best we could and refute some of the baseless arguments, such as there would be too much money spent on landscaping or that our school bonds were higher than those of other communities. We also tried to chastise conspiratorial arguments that attacked the character of our district officials.

Where it gets tricky is in disagreeing on values without, as you say, degrading those who differ. It is hard to do this with tact. It is also hard to convey one's tone in a piece of emotionally-charged writing. Sometimes what is intended one way, comes across another. For example, there are many for whom April and October are challenging months because property taxes are due, and I count myself among them. These people should not be belittled, and if I ever came across as doing so, it was not my intent and I am sorry for it. Did I find some of your comments or especially namvet's difficult to respond to always in a civil tone? Yes. Am I guilty of tossing a few zingers your way? Yes. I have to say that I hold the value so close that we have a community responsibility toward one another, that I was offended when namvet wrote that, now that his kids are out of school, he no longer felt an obligation to support the next generation of kids. That's his right, but I find that sentiment to be destructive to our society. That's where it gets tough not to sound preachy, when in fact, you feel preachy.

So, I may make another comment or two, but then I'm taking a long break. This was exhausting...and ultimately disheartening. The bond will be back someday, as the problems aren't going away, and I hope the next bond will come with all of its parts intact...because each part made sense. Hopefully, we'll be further along in our economic recovery, which I think posed the biggest obstacle, and more people will then feel like they are able to support the revitalization of Walla Walla High School.

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barracuda 1 year, 2 months ago

Fatherof5... Really? you really dont get it yet?

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 2 months ago

His response is a typical liberal tactic. If you disagree with their views, then you must be "misinformed" or "don't care about the children".

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barracuda 1 year, 2 months ago

Fatherof5... Face it.... You didn't get enough people to believe in the total package... There were too many problems with it! There was not enough people drinking the cool-aid that was set before them. We saw through the wants versus needs.... and the package held way too many of the wants.... You guys need to present a better total package next time.. And that includes timing when the studant population is shinking drastically, economy, less wants verses needs, less bills/bonds on the table and of course, a school board that WORKS FOR US! Not a board that has idea that once they get elected, they no longer have to ask for permission to use our money to build a building that was not agreeable to us! (i.e. bus barns) We elected them to do OUR bidding not to do theirs.... As for your snarky reply about ... "we can no longer use the economy for the next time" WOW! ........Until you guys wait until we have a better economy (among other reasons) ... I will still be against this large of an idea! We have too many things that are variables to do this bond!

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fatherof5 1 year, 2 months ago

Nope, we didn't get enough people. While a majority apparently agree with us, it wasn't enough.

When you say you want a school board who works for "us", who is the "us"? The 47% minority? (Again, more people supported the bond than didn't....so apparently most voters support the work of the Board.) Will the fact that 47% of the people voted "no" suddenly persuade me that it wasn't a worthy plan?

Nonetheless, 53% doesn't do squat, so something will have to change for it to get 60%...either the plan or the message or the overall climate...maybe all three.

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namvet60 1 year, 2 months ago

OK barracuda to your previous post - I apologize to all of the individuals and to the individuals children that missed to offend which means that I will just have to try a little harder next time to cover a larger area. :)

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namvet60 1 year, 2 months ago

fatherof5 - maybe the minority that defeated the issue were the people having to pay for it? Did that ever enter your mind.

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barracuda 1 year, 2 months ago

Yes! You finally see our point!

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fatherof5 1 year, 2 months ago

barracuda, I still believe the wise decision is to pass the bond intact, but if the district is forced to compromise the scope of the bond in order for some of it to pass, then that may have to happen. I hope not. That would be a shame. Most people agreed that it was a good bond worthy of passage. So...you might wish to withhold judgement as to whether or not I finally see your point. :)

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fatherof5 1 year, 2 months ago

namvet, I don't know who the 47% were. Every adult I know well owns his/her own house and voted 'yes' on the bond. These are people who would have to pay for it, so I don't know. Let's not forget that renters indirectly pay property taxes too, assuming landlords' goal is to operate at a profit.

I'm guessing half of the "no" votes (20%-30% overall) are the folks who will simply vote 'no' for everything, regardless of merit.

The big question for the district is who are the 10%-15% of voters who voted 'no' but wrestled with their decision. Why did they ultimately choose 'no'? What will it take to turn them around? A smaller bond? A better informational campaign? A healthier national economy? Paying off the last remaining bond in five years? I don't know the answer, but the district will need to figure that out.

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pdywgn 1 year, 1 month ago

The red flag for me was the hireing of an architect. Why would you hire an architect for a renovation? Apparently the well educated leaders of the WWSD don't know the first thing about construction projects. Grand Central Station was designed and initial construction was overseen by an architect. After it was completed the architect was done. If a renovation included extra bathrooms, sinks or elctrical it was overseen by a civil engineer to ensure the strucural integrity was maintained and the work was completed by contractors, electricians, plumbers, etc.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

pdywgn, here's my understanding: While the roofs and foundations of the Science Building, the Commons, the Library and the Academic Building were to remain, the interior of those four buildings would be gutted and would require completely new designs. The Music Wing and Fitness Center were new buildings.

So, like Grand Central Station, the design and initial construction would be overseen by an architect. If the bond had passed, then more work would have been done to fine-tune the design, and then the engineers and contractors would have become involved. This bond project wasn't just about moving a few walls and some plumbing.

With a bond for what are, in essence, several new buildings, you start with an architectural design and cost estimate, and then you see if it passes. You don't hire contractors and spend all that additional money for engineering work until after you have approval from the voters.

Before responding to my post, I'd strongly suggest you call the district and ask Mick Miller to explain why they went through the process they did. (He would know a LOT more than I do.) Then post your thoughts after you've done that. You may still differ, but I'd be surprised. I would be genuinely interested in your impressions after that conversation.

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Kahunga 1 year, 1 month ago

Here is a reason I just recently learned. Washington State code requires an architect for work on buildings over 4000 S.F. I am not sure just when this kicks in, but certainly on the scope of the school renovations. Our project is much, much smaller in renovation but requires an architect.

So, some group has a good lobbyist to get that cost increase through our legislature.

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