Building for the future community survey

Survey aims to ascertain priorities for Walla Walla school facilities projects

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What do you think the Walla Walla School District should do to address its facility needs? A survey being conducted by the Union-Bulletin over the next two weeks aims to gauge the level of community support for a variety of potential projects.

Take the survey

To take the U-B's survey, click here. At the end of the survey, you'll have an option to enter a drawing for one of three $150 gift certificates to the grocery store of your choice.

You can access the survey by clicking here; via the link box at right; or by filling out a printed version available in the U-B's June 30 edition and in subsequent editions leading up to the final day of the survey July 12. Either the online or printed survey includes an opportunity to be entered into a drawing for one of three $150 gift certificates to the grocery store of your choosing.

The information in this story is drawn from a two-page feature published in the June 30 edition of the U-B. Below, you will find summaries of seven potential projects that could be carried out at Wa-Hi; a roundup of other projects under consideration by the School District; a closer look at how the district sees Lincoln High School work fitting into its efforts; and a look back at the failed February 2013 bond that would have modernized Wa-Hi.

Three of the options under consideration would involve a total overhaul at the high school. One option would be to run the entire project as a single bond, as was attempted in February. Another option would be to tackle the overhaul in two or three phases. Each phase would require a separate bond vote.

And of course, one of the options is to do nothing at this time.

Following is a roundup of seven possible smaller projects that could be carried out at Wa-Hi:

Career and technical education

Current use (built in 1984)

Classes/programs: Agricultural science, horticulture, metals, woods and auto

Square footage: 24,327 (2010 Study & Survey)

Classrooms: 6

Restrooms: 2 multiuser restrooms

Proposed modernization

Classes/programs: Agricultural science, horticulture, metals, woods and auto

Square footage: 24,327

Classrooms: 6

Restrooms: 2 multiuser restrooms

Project cost

State match dollars: About $2.33 million

Total project cost to modernize: $3.95 million

Local bond amount: $1.62 million

Cost per thousand (based on local bond amount): 4 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

*Building costs only. Does not include site improvement costs.


Science building

Current use (built in 1963)

Classes/programs: Math, science, family consumer science, ASL, art, CAD, and computer technology

Square footage: 38,225 (2010 Study & Survey)

Classrooms: 20

Restrooms: 4 multiuser restrooms

Proposed modernization

Classes/programs: Math, science, family consumer science, CAD and media/technology

Square footage: 49,708

Classrooms: 22

Restrooms: 4 multiuser restrooms (larger than existing), 2 single occupancy

Project cost

State match dollars: About $5.74 million

Total project cost to modernize: $15.05 million

Local bond amount: $9.31 million

Cost per thousand (based on local bond amount): 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

*Building costs only. Does not include site improvement costs.


Music building

Current use (built in 1963)

Classes/programs: Music (band & choral) and drama

Square footage: 5,500 for music (2010 Study & Survey)

Classrooms: 3

Restrooms: 2 multiuser restrooms

Proposed modernization and addition

Classes/programs: Music (band & choral), drama, scene shop and costumes

Square footage: 5,500 modernized and 6,710 added

Classrooms: 5

Restrooms: 4 multiuser restrooms

Project cost

State match dollars: About $2.13 million

Total project cost to modernize: $4.5 million

Local bond amount: $2.37 million

Cost per thousand (based on local bond amount): 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

*Building costs only. Does not include site improvement costs.


Fitness center

Current use (build date unknown)

Classes/programs: Fitness/weight room

Square footage: 2,532 (2010 Study & Survey)

Classrooms: 1

Restrooms: none

Proposed modernization (combined)

Classes/programs: Fitness/weight room (with storage) and gym lobby

Square footage: 4,980 combined, with 3,800 for fitness and 1,180 for lobby

Classrooms: 1

Restrooms: none

Project cost

State match dollars: About $750,000

Total project cost to modernize: $2.2 million

Local bond amount: $1.45 million

Cost per thousand (based on local bond amount): 4 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

*Building costs only. Does not include site improvement costs.


Commons and library Current use

Commons (built in 1963)

Classes/programs: Food service, cafeteria, performances

Square footage: 16,311 (2010 Study & Survey)

Classrooms: none

Restrooms: 2 multiuser

Library (built in 1990)

Classes/programs: Library and language

Square footage: 14,237 (2010 Study & Survey)

Classrooms: 4

Restrooms: 2 multiuser restrooms, 1 single occupancy

Proposed modernization (combined)

Classes/programs: Library, administration, food service, cafeteria, performance, various social and learning activities

Square footage: 37,628

Classrooms: none

Restrooms: 4 multiuser restrooms (larger than existing), 2 single occupancy

Project cost

State match dollars: About $2.45 million

Total project cost to modernize: $16 million

Local bond amount: $13.55 million

Cost per thousand (based on local bond amount): 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

*Building costs only. Does not include site improvement costs.


Academic building

Current use (built in 1963)

Classes/programs: English, language, social studies, business, special education, photography and administration

Square footage: 54,698 (2010 Study & Survey)

Classrooms: 32

Restrooms: 6 multiuser restrooms, 4 single occupancy

Proposed modernization

Classes/programs: English, language, social studies, business, special education, photography, media/technology and art

Square footage: 73,362

Classrooms: 42

Restrooms: 8 multiuser restrooms (larger than existing), 4 single occupancy

Project cost

State match dollars: About $8.2 million

Total project cost to modernize: $19.8 million

Local bond amount: $11.6 million

Cost per thousand (based on local bond amount): 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

*Building costs only. Does not include site improvement costs.


Site development and track

Proposed modernization

New parking (student, staff and visitor), new bus drop-off, new parent drop-off, new and modernized activity/athletic fields, new tennis courts and new entryways

Track: Nine-lane track with 10-lane straightaways and track amenities: shot, high jump, discus, long jump, vault, goal posts, grass field and irrigation

Project cost

Total project cost: $8.1 million, including $750,000 for track with field amenities.

Cost per thousand (based on local bond amount): 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.


Other projects percolate for district

WALLA WALLA — With facilities that Superintendent Mick Miller said cover about 1 million square feet, the School District will likely have major projects percolating for as long as this Valley is settled.

Fortunately for taxpayers, the list isn’t endless right now. But needs the district has identified that could be coming to a ballot near you stretch beyond overhauling the high school off Abbott Road.

A district committee this month recommended tearing down Lincoln High and building a new high school on the Fourth Avenue site. One alternative that has been floated in the recent past is to renovate the school, which was built in 1927.

Whichever of those two routes is chosen, voters are likely to see a proposal, because “leave the school as is” does not appear to be an option.

In addition to Wa-Hi and Lincoln, the district has identified two schools as top priorities and two as secondary priorities.

Pi-Hi

After the high schools, an update to Pioneer Middle School is listed as the No. 2 priority for the district, which would like to expand and remodel the gym, build another gym and add science classrooms to the school on Bridge Street.

Blue Ridge and preschool

The district’s No. 3 priority is to move the Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program preschool program out of Blue Ridge Elementary School to a new building. The district would then remodel or renovate a portion of Blue Ridge to accommodate elementary-age children.

Berney and Prospect Point

In a second tier of priorities, the district is eyeing modernization of Berney and Prospect Point elementary schools.

A district-wide facilities report carried out in the 2009-2010 school year found Berney needs technology upgrades, better lighting and more space as well as more routine upkeep, such as new carpeting, added storage space and improvements to sidewalks and playgrounds.

Prospect Point’s needs focused on technology upgrades and a larger gym as well as items such as gutter installation work on play fields.

The facilities report identifies other smaller projects around the district, including developing a comprehensive facility maintenance program, but the other needs have not yet resulted in projects that could be proposed to voters. You can read the full report at union-bulletin.com.

Alasdair Stewart of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin


Lincoln improvement talk has shifted over time

WALLA WALLA — At one point, the conversation about improving high school facilities looked at meeting needs at Walla Walla High School and Lincoln High School at the same time.

In 2008, the High School Facilities Task Force recommended the School Board seek high school improvements in phases, and to tackle Wa-Hi and Lincoln together:

“The Board of Directors should include improvement projects for both Wa-Hi and Lincoln in each phase,” the task force noted in its recommendations.

And the Community Facilities Task Force Committee, which most recently made facilities recommendation in 2010, saw improvements at both public high schools as the No. 1 facilities need in the district. “High school facilities were found to be in the greatest need of improvement,” the report noted about Wa-Hi and Lincoln. “Now is the time to put the spotlight on our high school facilities.”

When Wa-Hi surfaced as the priority, consideration was also given to using state matching dollars toward Lincoln. Yet the School Board’s decision to seek a comprehensive measure for Wa-Hi required putting Lincoln on hold a while longer.

School District Communications Director Mark Higgins explained the district could not seek a complete overhaul of Wa-Hi without using all state matching funds to bring down costs. Prior to the election in February, the School Board also voted to apply any excess funds from a Wa-Hi bond toward the project’s debt.

“I think ultimately the cost of the local bond is a factor that we’re dealing with,” Higgins said. “Just having $48 million was a big number for people. If you don’t take all of those state matching dollars and apply them for Wa-Hi, that local contribution goes up. That was the reason why every single state matching dollar was dedicated to Wa-Hi.”

Higgins said the choice to seek Wa-Hi alone came from the Facilities Task Force recommendations.

“They knew Wa-Hi was going to be a big number and if they also added Lincoln on top of that, that number would get bigger,” Higgins said. “They made a tough decision and recommended that Wa-Hi inch up to the top priority, knowing that Lincoln is very close behind.”

Comparing needs at Wa-Hi versus Lincoln is tough, given the differences in the schools. Lincoln, housed in a 1927 building, has the greater facility need. An independent study of district buildings in 2003 by MGT of America Inc. shows Lincoln as the most structurally deficient building currently in the district. Lincoln’s close to 200 students are also more likely to be low-income and at-risk than their peers at Wa-Hi.

As a smaller property on less land, the cost of redoing Lincoln — whether renovating its 1927 home or building new — would be considerably less than an overhaul of Wa-Hi. Recent architectural estimates drawn up BLRB/USKH architects put Lincoln improvements close to $10 million, whether new or renovated.

Meanwhile, Lincoln has experienced a turnaround in the last five years, mainly since leadership of the school was taken over by principal Jim Sporleder. Through a compassionate approach to discipline known as the Children’s Resilience Initiative, students have seen state test scores jump year after year, and graduation rates rise.

But Wa-Hi affects more students — close to 1,800 attend in ninth through 12th grades, through more comprehensive programs that span the range of AP courses, FFA, theater, music and athletics.

By rejecting the Wa-Hi bond in February, voters ultimately said the project was too big. So if Lincoln is a smaller school, and thus a smaller project, with the greater facility need, why didn’t the district seek a Lincoln bond first?

School Board member Max Carrera said the community is simply not ready to make a decision on Lincoln because communication on the school’s needs is still lacking.

“I think there’s a lot of work to be done yet as far as selling a Lincoln project to the community,” he said. “I think the discussions are too early yet to put it ahead.”

Carrera, who is leaving the board at the end of July, served on the Lincoln High School Community Facilities Study Committee, which wrapped up about five months of meetings in June by recommending Lincoln stay at its location, but be rebuilt new.

“If you look at building to building, the need is certainly greater at Lincoln,” Carrera said. He argued, however, that the community also needs to have a discussion about alternative education.

“I look at alternative education and what we’ve done historically in this community, and we can do better,” he said.

“Right now we’ve got a credit retrieval program in the basement of the district offices,”Carrera continued. “At what point do we say we need to do better by this program? Good things are happening, and they just need a building to support that.”

Carrera joined the School Board in 2007 in part to help bring support and change to alternative programs, which have been lacking in true investment. Carrera was also the only board member to vote against using excess funds from a Wa-Hi bond toward paying down the debt. Carrera was in favor of using any excess funds for other district needs — such as Lincoln, or the alternative programs.

“It’s a can we’ve been kicking down the road a long time,” Carrera said.

Higgins said Lincoln and alternative education programs remain a priority to the district.

“Nobody from the Community Facilities Task Force wanted to see the district move on without doing something about Lincoln,” Higgins said.

“It came down to what it was felt the community could tolerate.”

“By no means does anyone think that Lincoln’s not needed,” he added.

Maria P. Gonzalez of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin


Wa-Hi bond highlights

Here are the highlights of the failed Feb. 12, 2013, bond that would have paid for an overhaul of Wa-Hi:

Local bond amount

The local cost for the project would have been $48 million.

Would have amounted to an increase of about 68 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. ($68 annual cost for owners of property assessed at $100,000; $170 for property valued at $250,000, etc.) Rate last year for Walla Walla Public Schools bond rate was $1.27 per $1,000. New rate would have been $1.95 per $1,000. The bond rate would have dropped in 2019 to $1.15 per $1,000.

Any excess bond funds were to be returned to taxpayers.

Remodeling and upgrading of most of the existing 1963 Wa-Hi buildings were proposed to keep costs down. The school was to have been built for 1,821 students. Portables would have been removed. Each teacher was to have a dedicated classroom. Lab space would have been expanded and accommodations made for future growth.

Would have been completed in winter 2016.

The project would not have included work on the gyms and auditorium.

Project development costs

Project development costs, which are those costs not tied directly to buildings, would have amounted to $21,421,000)

Sales tax $4,237,000

Architectural and engineering fees $3,689,000

(per state guidelines)

Other professional consulting fees $1,071,000

Environmental/site/soils/haz-mat $1,071,000

Construction management fees $1,428,000

Furniture and equipment $2,856,000

Constructability services $2,023,000

(state/OSPI, permitting, testing

and inspection, phasing)

Contingencies $4,760,000

(Construction, bidding, escalation)

Administrative $286,000

(legal, finance, elections)

Revenue sources and overall cost

Proposed project revenue:

State match $21,600,000

2013 local bond $48,000,000

Total project cost $69,600,000

Square footage costs

Feb. 12, 2013, proposal $235.41/SF

New construction state average $277.20/SF

Addition state average $209.87/SF

Modernization average $197.23/SF

Voting figures

A supermajority of 60 percent was needed for passage. Final vote was 5,582 (53.35 percent) in favor and 4,880 (46.65 percent) opposed.

Final voter turnout: 52.77 percent.

For comparison, the 2012 election for an educational programs and operations replacement levy was approved 6,114 (64.33 percent) to 3,390 (35.67 percent) with turnout of 50.44 percent.

Additional information

The Sharpstein School bond was paid in full last December, however bond rates remain similar this year. That’s because the district strives to maintain a level bond rate so taxpayers don’t see significant spikes in their property tax payments. This is accomplished by structuring the funding of bond payments based on recommendations from bond lawyers and consultants.

For example, once voters approved the Edison School bond in 2007, the district funded interest only to the Edison bonds and large sums to the principal for the outstanding Sharpstein bonds. Now that Sharpstein is paid in full, the district is funding large sums to the Edison bond principal. This practice allows the district to better maintain a flat rate for taxpayers while still meeting all bond payment obligations.

The Edison bond will be paid in full in December 2018.

Source: Walla Walla School District

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