Walla Walla voters could see $10 million bond to build new Wa-Hi science building

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This story has been modified since its original publication.

WALLA WALLA — On the heels of a pair of failed bond elections to fund a complete renovation of Walla Walla High School, district officials are forwarding a dramatically scaled-back plan to build a new stand-alone science building and leave the remainder of the renovation plans to a later bond issue.

Call it a $10 million trust-building effort.

Walla Walla School District spokesman Mark Higgins and board member Ruth Ladderud revealed the plan Thursday to the Union-Bulletin’s editorial board.

By addressing what they feel is the greatest need on campus — replacing an inadequate and aging science facility — district officials hope to regain voters’ trust, the lack of which was identified as a problem after the latest capital bond election failure in 2013.

But, Higgins said, “We don’t want to give the false impression that we don’t want to do the entire project, because there’s still 50-year old buildings out there.”

The plan, pending approval from the district’s facilities task force and school board, would put a 15-year, $10 million capital bond in the April 22 special election ballot to construct a 10-classroom science building. It would be on the northwestern corner of the Wa-Hi campus, between the current science building and the vocational education building.

Higgins said the building would add approximately 28 cents per $1,000 of home value in property taxes — about $56 per year for a $200,000 house. As the building is new construction, it will not be eligible for state matching funds.

The district will hold a public work session Monday to meet with the Community Facilities Task Force to discuss the plan and likely present it to the School Board during its regular meeting on Tuesday.

To have the bond run in the April election, however, the district must file a resolution with the County Auditor by March 7, leaving less than a month for the District to campaign before ballots are mailed out April 4.

Should the district pass the bond, construction would likely start in the spring of 2015 and finish in time for the 2015-16 school year. Passage requires a 60 majority vote and a turnout of at least 40 percent of the number of voters in the last general election.

Despite the small amount of time to campaign for the bond, Higgins said the district was confident voters would approve the measure.

“We don’t think this is a real big surprise to people that this is what we want to do,” Higgins said. “Even people who said no (to the previous bond election) didn’t seem to have any objections to a science building.”

The new science building’s classrooms would be 1,600 square feet — vastly larger than the current science labs — and be equipped with all of the infrastructure required for modern science curriculum. The new facility would not replace the 16 portables at Wa-Hi, however, as those would be needed to house students in the event of a complete renovation.

Aside from it being more likely to pass, a bond to build just a science facility would also give the district more time to assess the effects of the construction of College Place High School and the Southeast Area Technical Skills Center on Wa-Hi’s enrollment, Higgins said, as well as the condition of the overall economy.

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.

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