WALLA WALLA — School and community members urged the Walla Walla School Board to move forward with a plan to build a stand-alone science building at Walla Walla High School on Tuesday, despite the district’s Community Facilities Task Force recommendation Monday not to do so.
The board has until Friday to file for the April 22 special election. It has set another special meeting for Thursday at 3 p.m. to vote on a resolution to place a $10 million bond on the ballot to build the 10-classroom science facility. The meeting will be held at the district’s administration building, 364 S. Park St.
If passed, the bond would fund the first major construction at Wa-Hi since the district passed a $3.62 million bond in 1989 to build a new gymnasium, library, auditorium and four new classrooms. The bond under consideration would cost taxpayers an estimated 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.
Although it won’t replace the current science building altogether — the current building houses other programs besides science — it would move science programs out of a building the district has repeatedly identified as substandard.
And district officials aren’t the only ones to note the inadequacies.
“I had an opportunity to tour the building recently, and I was just shocked at what was missing,” Whitman College senior Stefani Paladino said during Tuesday’s meeting. “There wasn’t lab space, the classes were really small. In the 21st century, people need to have access to labs, to science, to technology, and I feel like the students here are at a disadvantage because they don’t have access to that.
“And when you ask, ‘Should we wait, should we wait?’ well, I feel like Walla Walla has been waiting decades and I think that the school really needs a remodel,” Paladino added.
Paladino’s comments were echoed throughout the meeting, which included members of the community and district staff.
Wa-Hi Principal Pete Peterson said he had heard pro-bond feedback from Wa-Hi staff and from members of the community.
“One of the statements that came last night at the task force meeting from Mr. (Scott) Krivoshein,” Peterson said, was, “‘Finally we have a plan we should have had 10 years ago, and (if we had,) we’d of been done by now.’”
Peterson said the current bond plan has a higher chance of meeting voter approval.
“Because of the size and the scope, and the fact that this plan finally reflects what our community members said to us in survey after survey — which was do it cheaper, do it for what you need and not for what you want, and do it in phases — and this is the first plan that I’ve seen that actually meets those three criteria.”
In her opening statements, board member Ruth Ladderud, who with district spokesman Mark Higgins first presented the plan to the Union-Bulletin’s editorial board on Thursday, said that although the short lead up to a bond election was not ideal, the district had to act quickly or risk up to a year before being able to advance another bond.
“This tight a time frame is never the right thing to throw out,” Ladderud said, “but because the window of opportunity is small, and because of the benefit to the kids in the short term and the long term, it needs an airing and a chance to be considered and discussed.”
On Monday the district’s Community Facilities Task Force recommended that the district not proceed with an April bond election.
Instead, the task force requested additional time to consider options, including a bond that would pay for both a new science building and the renovation of the current building at the same time.
Max Carrera, a former board member and current task force member, said it would be wrong for the district to go against the task force’s recommendation.
“The board established a process,” he said. “Part of that process included the facilities task force, and has for many years. And they have spoken. You asked them to serve, and they have spent countless hours studying this issue ... For now to somehow discount their opinion is a disservice to everybody who served on that committee for many, many years. And I hope that you’ll take pause.
“You messed up,” Carrera said to the board. “You need to pause now and you need listen to what they’re (the task force) saying.”
But Ladderud, who is also a member of the task force, said that while moving forward with an April bond would run counter the task force’s recommendation, it would honor the overall vision for renovating Wa-Hi.
“The task force has very clearly said that this needs to go forward in stages,” she said. “They’ve very clearly said that this needs to be a science project; they’ve very clearly said — and it breaks my heart — that we need to work with Wa-Hi before Lincoln (High School).
“To a huge degree, I feel like this process does honor their recommendations” Ladderud added. “To the extent that it doesn’t, is the discomfort with moving so fast and not necessarily parceling it out within their vision.”
By the end of the meeting, Carrera softened his tone.
“Tonight we’ve heard from the public, and I think it’s pretty unanimous of what the feelings, at least in this room, are,” Carrera said. “I would hope that even tomorrow, you would meet and vote on this.”
Ben Wentz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8315.