Walla Walla High School, after 50 years, still looks like a picture on a postcard. Yellowhawk Creek flows through the middle of a campus where red brick buildings are surrounded by green grass and tall trees.
But it’s not pretty inside most of those buildings.
The biggest problems are in the classrooms, which are too small to fit 30 or more students comfortably. The rooms have few power outlets and no wiring to accommodate high-tech devices such as computers. Classrooms have no air conditioning, leaving students sweltering in the fall and spring.
The older generation should think of it like this — it’s like the Jetsons trying to cope in a school from the Flintstones’ world.
Wa-Hi’s science building has even more problems, all serious enough to make learning far more challenging than it needs to be. The lab space is too small, resulting in students being crammed together. The infrastructure necessary to conduct hands-on science experiments isn’t there. Teachers have to jerry-rig classrooms to construct makeshift lab spaces. Students miss out on the full lab experience most of the other students around the state experience.
Wa-Hi needs a complete overhaul. A $69.6 million renovation project has been proposed. Voters will decide on Feb. 12 whether to approve the $48 million bond, which would then qualify the school district for $21.6 million in matching funds.
The district has come up with a solid, cost-effective plan. The science and academic buildings will technically be remodeled because the foundations and roofs will be reused. However, those buildings will essentially be new. Reusing material trims construction costs, qualifies the project for a larger amount of state matching funds and — perhaps most importantly — will result in the new Wa-Hi looking much like the current Wa-Hi.
We understand approving a property tax increase to cover a $48 million bond in today’s lousy economic climate will not be easy for voters. Folks are seriously thinking about whether the added tax is worth revamping Wa-Hi.
But they should also consider what value an upgraded Wa-Hi brings to the entire community. Wa-Hi will become a point of pride and make this a more attractive place to relocate.
And school officials have found a way to soften the blow to taxpayers.
The 21-year bond will initially result in homeowners paying 68 cents more per $1,000 of the appraised value of their property. The 2012 rate is $1.27.
The $11 million bond for the renovation of Sharpstein Elementary School was paid off in December. The amount paid on the Sharpstein bond essentially transfers to the Wa-Hi bond. This will then be added to the payment for the Edison Elementary bond, which will be paid off in 2018.
So, if the Wa-Hi bond passes the total cost of school construction bonds will be about $1.95 per $1,000 through 2018. The rate drops to $1.15 when the Edison bond is paid off.
We believe the added property tax is a solid investment in the public school system and this community. We urge voters to approve the bond.