Voters to decide on Wa-Hi bond issue

The district wants to do a $69.6 million renovation of the school.

Ethan Johnson, a junior at Walla Walla High School in this 2007 photo, clears tables of trash as all the students around him head back to class after as the third lunch period. The commons is one of the areas included in the Wa-Hi bond.

Ethan Johnson, a junior at Walla Walla High School in this 2007 photo, clears tables of trash as all the students around him head back to class after as the third lunch period. The commons is one of the areas included in the Wa-Hi bond. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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U-B file photo The bond would retain the open campus concept, seen here in 1974.

WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla High School stands to undergo a major facilities overhaul should voters approve a bond proposal on Feb. 12.

If approved, the $69.6 million renovation will bring Walla Walla High School out of the 1960s, when it was built, and into the 21st century, where technology plays a key role in learning and in facility design, supporters say.

Wa-Hi is the city’s main public high school, serving about 1,800 students. The main buildings that make up the school are spread across an open campus that opened in 1963.

Local property owners will be asked to cover $48 million of the $69.6 million through a 20-year bond, with the remaining $21.6 million coming from a state match.

The bond, which needs 60 percent of the votes to pass, would increase property taxes by 68 cents per $1,000 of assessed value compared to the 2012 rate.

Residents would pay an overall school bond tax rate of $1.95 per $1,000 for five years if the bond is approved, and then see it drop to $1.15 per $1,000 in 2019 when the Edison Elementary bond is paid off, based on projections.

The rate would remain at $1.15 through 2034 when the bond is paid off, assuming there are no other voter-approved bond projects in that time.

“The Wa-Hi bonds are structured to allow smaller payments between 2013 and 2018 and thereby accommodate larger payments on the Edison bonds so they will be completely paid off in 2018,” explained Pat Johnston, chief financial officer of Walla Walla Public Schools. “Bond payments are typically structured to allow a fairly even tax rate so taxpayers do not see large fluctuations in their tax bills.”

For that price, the Wa-Hi bond would take care of the school’s major facility concerns — getting rid of portables, making buildings safer and more energy efficient, increasing classroom space and storage — while maintaining the brick façades and open campus that characterize and distinguish Wa-Hi from other regional high schools.

The majority of the project funds would be allocated to modernizing and expanding Wa-Hi’s main and most used buildings — its academic, science, commons area and library. By using existing building frames and roof structures, architects plan to build out, absorbing wide breezeways to expand classrooms and create interior hallways.

Each building would have more bathrooms and water fountains than currently in place, and reintroduce lockers to students.

In a video walking tour prepared by the district, Superintendent Mick Miller notes that using the existing buildings is a way to save money while preserving Wa-Hi’s look.

“All 1963 buildings are to remain, keeping roof systems, slabs and beams,” Miller says in the video. “This is cost effective and keeps the open campus feel.”

The renovation of the main buildings would also bring energy efficiency through insulated walls, new efficient windows and updated heating and cooling units for lower maintenance costs.

The redesign would allow Wa-Hi to shed its 16 portable classrooms, with space designed in for potential future growth.

The school’s commons, administrative offices and library would become the heart of the school, a central area where students can gather before and after school or on breaks.

The commons would be accessible from the Abbott and Reser Road entrances to the school, with Reser Road access getting a significant redesign and a more accessible parking lot. Miller highlights this aspect of the design in the video, which is available to view at wwps.org.

“We want to make a really inviting entry for students into the commons, which will really be a student space,” Miller says.

Other aspects of the project include adding an all-weather track. New construction will add a music building to expand the school’s music and drama programs to allow separate rooms and practice space for each program.

Buildings not impacted by the project include the auditorium, the FFA barn and the large and small gyms.

Supporters say the project looks to meet the needs of current and future generations of students, through updated building designs and classroom resources aligned with modern learning demands, with an increasing focus on science, technology, and design flexibility.

Today’s fifth graders would be the first freshman class to attend the updated Wa-Hi all four years.

The Walla Walla School Board has spent the last few years developing a plan for addressing needs at Wa-Hi, balancing the daily demands of students and staff with the community’s own vision and desires for the future of the city’s main high school.

On its way to developing a bond proposal, the board had to halt plans following the approval of a high school district in College Place Public Schools in April 2012. College Place students have historically attended school at Wa-Hi, but will be phased out of the school in the coming years as construction of the new CP High School begins.

Initial Wa-Hi plans were changed to reflect the eventual loss of about 350 College Place students.

The Walla Walla School Board also made the decision to limit the bond to Wa-Hi, leaving facility needs at the smaller Lincoln High School for the future, following a more careful study of the school’s needs that is currently under way.

The board then amended its original bond resolution to dedicate any potential leftover money from the project — the local share and state match — to paying down the bond debt, returning it to taxpayers through lower costs.

The School District has compiled an extensive list of project costs, designs, photographs and videos. All are accessible online at wwps.org.

Tours of Wa-Hi with Principal Pete Peterson are scheduled Friday at 9 a.m., meeting in the main office, and a two-hour tour Saturday, starting at 3 p.m. in the school’s commons.

To schedule an individual tour, or to ask questions about the bond proposal, contact Communications Director Mark Higgins at 526-6716.

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