The School Board now accepts voters won’t approve a single bond to fund a total renovation of the buildings on the Walla Walla High School campus.
But what will voters support?
That’s the $15 million or $25 million or $35 million question.
The School Board at a public work session last week looked at possible options for a phased approach to renovate Wa-Hi and then listened to citizens.
In addition, some School Board members indicated that when options are narrowed they want to see public meetings in which people are encouraged to give their honest opinions. If people don’t like a plan, they want to know why.
Doing nothing at Wa-Hi isn’t a viable, long-term option.
The problems with the buildings will only grow worse and new problems will emerge.
For example, the sad situation with small, out-of-date science labs puts local students heading for college at a disadvantage in competing with students across the state.
While the Board now acknowledges a phased approach is what voters want, the length of time it will take to fully address the needs at Wa-Hi remain unclear.
A two-phased approach — with one bond proposal next year and another in 2019 — is getting consideration. Some believe doing the renovation in more than two phases will drag out the process for too long.
The first phase of a two-phase approach might look like this: Officials said it could include a remodel of the science and academic buildings and construction of a new science add-on building placed in the parking lot adjacent to the current science building. In addition, it could include construction of new soccer fields, a fitness facility and a new parking lot on the southern side of campus. If all that was included in a first phase it would cost roughly $40 million, with $25 million coming from a voter-approved bond and the rest from state matching funds.
It’s too early to say whether this specific plan could get enough traction for the 60 percent approval needed to pass. However, the more different projects such as a fitness facility are included, the more there will be on the ballot for individual voters to find objectionable.
In the end, the School Board might have to go to three or four phases if it becomes clear that is what voters want and will accept.
Whatever proposal is put on the ballot has to pass. Two bonds addressing Wa-Hi construction have failed, a third would be devastating. Another rejection could be seen as evidence the School Board either didn’t do a good job getting the pulse of the voters or, frankly, didn’t listen.
The current School Board members seem to grasp that harsh reality and are committed to making sure that what is put on the ballot is approved.
Board members are going in the right direction by thoroughly vetting all the options by seeking public comment — the negative as well as the positive.