Letter - Need for Wa-Hi science building questioned

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It looks to me like more smoke and mirrors from the Walla Walla School Board.

In the past school bond efforts, the citizens of Walla Walla were led to believe that Walla Walla High School needed bigger classrooms, more parking, more restrooms, better heating and cooling systems, better sports facilities, among other much needed improvements to the campus.

I believe we were asked to support a $48 million school bond for all of that.

In a related matter, the citizens of Walla Walla were told that Lincoln High School should probably be demolished, and a new school built, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Now it seems like none of those needs are really that important at the moment.

Now we are asked to support a $10 million school bond to build a new science center at Wa-Hi.

It is hard for me to accept that a new science center is the most important, and most needed improvement choice. I hope, and expect, that Walla Walla voters will reject this latest attempt by the School Board to deceive voters into voting for something they want, their pet project, and not voting for something that will benefit the majority of students.

I would support a $10 million school bond if it was for general improvements and upgrades of existing facilities. And I believe that over 60 percent of voters would support such a plan.

What we will not support is spending $10 million on one specific project, knowing that in the months and years to come, we will be asked to vote for millions of dollars for other school bonds for other perceived needs.

A general upgrade of facilities, at a reasonable cost, is what we want.

And don’t tear down Lincoln High School. It is a historic building, with adequate space for the student population. Just renovate it.

Jeffery C. Bickle

Walla Walla

Comments

barracuda 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I have heard that there is this sentiment all over town, even by people who voted for the bond previously are appalled by this move. At this rate, I see it failing bad.

Myself, as it stands right now, I like this 10 million better than the previous bond request.

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fatherof5 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Barracuda, I'm interested to know what is it that you hear people saying that makes them appalled. The feedback from the "no" voters last year was to make the bond smaller and to focus on the greatest needs. Everyone who has taken a serious look at the challenges at Wa-Hi has put the science classrooms at the top of the list. The surveys said there was great support for a phased approach. Some also worried about the disruptive nature of remodeling existing buildings.

So, all of this is precisely what this bond takes into account. The facilities task force was recommending a larger bond, but the board didn't want to risk going too big and failing again.

Is it a matter of better explaining why science rooms are fairly expensive? Or reminding folks that the science building remodel was slated for $15 million? Or clarifying that every student at Wa-Hi takes a minimum of two years of science? Or publishing more photos and testimonials regarding the current limitations of those classrooms? I appreciate your openness to this bond, but what do others say they do not like about it? Thanks.

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barracuda 5 months, 3 weeks ago

1 quick reply, due to other commitments, more later.

Is there seems to be no list of priorities/needs laid out to voters. Just last year it was a major upgrade to Wa-Hi. Then after the elections and the bond loss, a front page of the U-B laid out a picture of how bad Lincoln is now, and it needs major ASAP. Our feelings are that there needs to be a list laid out and in order of needs versus wants. And then we need to go after those lists (in order) until we can fix these items. It seems to us that there is several things that need structure etc.

More later

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mspinks 5 months, 3 weeks ago

People don't like the idea of spending $1,000,000 per classroom. It's hard to imagine it would cost that much to renovate the current classrooms.

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dereksarley 5 months, 3 weeks ago

mspinks, there's actually no need to "imagine" anything. Renovating the old Science Building was included as part of the last bond proposal. According to information provided by the District, the cost for that one piece of the project would have been $15 million -- with additional project development costs for the entire project broken out separately.

The current proposal is $7.4 million for the building and associated parking lots. Project development costs and sales tax accounts for the rest.

The previous project would have produced a renovated Science Building that was almost 50,000 square feet. This project is for a new Science Lab building that is about 25,000 square feet. As you can see, the numbers / square foot -- $15M / 50K SF vs. $7.5M / 25K SF -- are basically the same.

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NewInWW 5 months, 3 weeks ago

It's sad to see so many who have been extraordinarily well served by publicly funded education in the 50's and 60's now decide that others are mired in an entitlement mentality when it comes to funding public education.

Can we say "me" generation ?

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namvet60 5 months, 3 weeks ago

You should check some apples to apples. Back then the students actually went to school to be educated - now the boys are to busy watching the girls in 40 degree weather wearing short shorts and sandals. They state that the classrooms are cold - hah.

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Calzaretta 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm sure you have already done this as an educated voter, but if you haven't had the chance please take a tour of the facilities. The district is offering tours to the public. Thanks.

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PearlY 5 months, 3 weeks ago

There's funding and then there's funding. Just like many valuable substances can be toxic in too-large doses, so can program funding. Per student K-12 education spending has nearly tripled (or maybe by now, more than tripled) in inflation-adjusted dollars since the 50s and 60s, and yet outcomes, especially for the most at-risk populations, have not improved and in many cases have deteriorated.

How much is enough to spend on a student's education per year? $10,000? We're pretty much there now. $15,000? $20,000? Is there any limit above which you too might agree it's too much?

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Doceo 5 months, 3 weeks ago

PearlY,

You bring up interesting and important points that I have considered on many occasions as a practicing physics teacher at Wa-Hi but I think that it is important to note that replacing worn out and inadequate facilities is a separate issue from per pupil spending. Students should be able to take a science course while in a science classroom. It is very hard to accomplish many investigations without sinks and a gas supply. I believe that kids learn science best by doing science. A non-lab classroom makes what can be a challenging prospect more difficult for all involved.

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PearlY 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree with each of your points. But see my points below on the costs for this project.

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wwguy7 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I would encourage everyone to go take a tour of the Wa Hi facilities, mainly the science building. It is an absolutely travesty that students in this day and age have to learn in an environment like that. I beg you, before you vote, go take a facility tour.

I am investing in the future of my children and our community by voting yes for this bond.

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kurtfr 5 months, 3 weeks ago

With basically a 50 year old building, the odds that the classroom meet current standards as far as size, ventilation and safety are nill. Typically trying to renovation existing space to meet standards is either impossible or more expensive than building new.

A rough look at the numbers for the $10.2million is that it is within the range that it should be if you look at square foot construction costs. Remember that the $10.2million total includes contingency as well as $500k for parking.

Assuming there is 25% contingency on this (after all there is no design at this point) the cost comes down to $8.16million. If we take out the parking @ $500k, we’re down to $7.66million. The building is to be 25,000sf, so that’s roughly $306 per square foot.

Looking at the 2014 RSMeans Square Foot Cost Estimating Guide, a school lab of this size on average is about $250/sf with a typical range of $168.20 to $314.05 per s.f. It’s in the ballpark and it’s better to be a little high at a concept stage than being low and having to ask for additional funding if you come up short.

I don’t have children, so in a sense I could say there is no benefit to me. On the other hand as I am part of society, I prefer to live in a society where we give kids a chance to get a proper education.

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wwguy7 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Very well said kurtfr. It's an investment in the future of our community and town. That's what it comes down to.

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PearlY 5 months, 3 weeks ago

We are being asked to pay $10.2 million for a 25,000 building (only 60% of which is specialized classroom space) and $500,000 parking improvements (a cost of nearly $10,000 per parking space - pretty steep when there's no land cost).

To me that translates into a per square foot cost for the building of $388, including the contingency which will almost certainly be spent and can't be simply ignored as an element of cost. I don't have access to the 2014 RSMeans, but the 2013 has COLLEGE laboratory cost in Seattle at about $206 a square foot, including architectural fees, overhead, etc., at union rates. The difference between $206 and $388 is quite substantial. (And surely college labs require more specialized equipment and design features than high school labs.)

Even using your figures, $306 is at the very high end of a range between $168 and $314, which includes outliers like New York City.

Walla Walla levy rates are already higher than most counties in the State and in the top 15% of counties in the nation. If we keep funding things at the top of the range, it's easy to see why.

Yes, we do need new science classrooms, and I prefer to live in a society of literate and scientifically aware people, for which we need competent and effective schools. And I don't think we should only fund such schools on the cheap - they are too important. BUT there's a difference between cheap and financially careful. I've looked on the District's website and see no explanation why the costs for this particular project need to be so high compared to similar projects elsewhere.

X and Y can go to the grocery store with virtually identical shopping lists, and X will spend twice what Y does, because Y shops the sales, buys store brands when quality is the same, clips a few coupons, etc. There's nothing wrong with X's shopping list, but I'd rather have Y spending my money. Why can't we get a few Ys involved in these projects?

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kurtfr 5 months, 3 weeks ago

There are a few errors in your numbers. One to compare the square foot costs, RSMeans is looking at the building only. Parking is not included in their square foot costs. True that is a project cost, but they separate those cost out from sf building costs. Secondly, the example you are talking about is for a 45,000sf building. Sf costs go up as sf size goes down.

Now I made a mistake myself. I forgot to subtract escalation from the construction costs. I'm assuming that the construction cost was escalated to 2015 costs because that is when construction takes place. So to match this up with 2014 costs, we need to subtract about 1.5%. So that takes us from $306 in 2015 dollars to $301 in 2014 dollars.

So again higher than avg for a 25,000ft building but not outlandish. Especially at such an early stage of design. There is a lot of risk involved in estimating a project at this early stage. Ask too much and it doesn't get funded. Ask too little and you either have to come back and ask for more or reduce scope and end up with less than what is truly needed.

Finally for other than a rough back of the napkin estimate, RSMeans isn't so useful. So I'm assuming that the designers have a more detailed estimate than a quick look a sf cost guide.

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Doceo 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Mr. Bickle, the sad truth is that many of the items you listed are real needs for Walla Walla High School. Wa Hi needs bigger classrooms, more restrooms, better heating and cooling. Better cooling would mean an actual cooling system for most of the campus. Lincoln High School is a facilities travesty in its own right. Research by the district, WSU and the Union Bulletin has indicated that the public is not in favor of a large bond to tackle all of these issues at once. The school board is simply performing their due diligence as they seek a publicly acceptable way to make the necessary facilities improvements within the system. As a science teacher at Wa-Hi, please accept my assurance that there is no deception intended. The board is seeking workable solution to a complex problem.

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namvet60 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Just an inquiring thought? Has there ever been a comparison made on the cost of the construction expense if the the bidding was open to non-union and union contractors?

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Kahunga 5 months, 3 weeks ago

My guess is, if this contract is partially funded by federal money, prevailing wages must be paid no matter if union or not.

The prevailing wage law is very corrupt, but that is for another article.

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PearlY 5 months, 3 weeks ago

IS this project partially funded by federal money? I haven't seen that mentioned.

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downhillracer 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The 'vet' hasn’t made good use of the education he was provided. Here is Remedial Econ 101:

Construction bid is opened and publically posted. Interested companies respond to the Request for Proposal/Bid/Quote. Decision is made on vendor based on capabilities, cost and compliance.

It does not matter if “non-union (or) union contractors” are used.

Well, it does if you’re stuck on repeating all the nonsense Glenn Beck ever uttered, and are bent on espousing an insane Tea Party agenda in every conversation you have.

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PearlY 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Apparently union vs. open shop does matter, according to RSMeans' data on construction costs. Union projects cost on average 9% more.

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fatherof5 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The point downhillracer accurately made is that "the decision will be made on vendor-based capabilities, cost and compliance." If a union contractor's bid is more favorable than a non-union contractor, then the district would likely go with that. If the reverse is true, then the district would go with that. So, it's really not germane. The district will go with the best overall bid, union or not.

Let's talk about if this is the right compromise to cut the original $69 million project down to $10 million in order to (a) find a balance that will satisfy the "no" voters but still do enough for the 53% who voted "yes", and (b) be the right project for the greatest benefit for the most students. I think this bond is a giant compromise from the majority to the minority. After giving up so much to please the critics, it is frustrating to hear sniping about unions and other non-issues.

Right now there are 1,800 students who are receiving the only high school science education they will ever get, and they are doing it in really terrible facilities that retard their learning. What are we going to do about it? Nothing? Or something? The responsible answer is "something." So then what is that something? Remodel the current building for $15 million (because that is what it costs) or build a new one for $10 million (because that is what it costs)?

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namvet60 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Sniping?

That sniping that you refer to such as unions, non- issues relate to added dollars spent. What are non-issues being presented?

So in your realm just pass the bond at any expense with no questions asked? Is that the way society does things in this new world order?

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downhillracer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

There is no other way to say it: you're an idiot.

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namvet60 5 months, 2 weeks ago

downhillracer - With your limited knowledge of the English language, the populace can understand that! No one else has the ability to spew pure drivel without a facsimile of substance on a consistent basis like you. Maybe some day there will be a thought enter that space and shock everyone. Although nobody should hold there breathe.

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downhillracer 5 months, 1 week ago

You're right, I was wrong: you are a pious, self-righteous and woefully ignorant idiot.

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MyFamNews 5 months, 3 weeks ago

So, Namvet, should we discriminate against a contractor based on his employees? Sounds just a bit short sighted. The bidding process should be conducted and the bid awarded based on cost, not on whether the workers are members of a union. Your union bias is showing.

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namvet60 5 months, 2 weeks ago

That's funny I didn't realize there was a statement made but there was a question? Maybe if one reads the comment?

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Jo99362 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The science classrooms are deplorable. I did a patron tour and my HS was built in the 60s had a lot better lab set-up than Wa-Hi. My HS also had half the number of students and we had 6 science classrooms for grades 10-12, I do not forsee 10 classrooms being a ridiculous request, especially if you expect graduates to attend college. Our average classroom size was 16 and 2 years is usually required to graduate or even attempt to go to college. Biology requires different lab requirements than Chemistry or Physics. If you expect Wa-Hi to be academically focused and expect graduates to be adequately teaching youth to be ready for college, you have to upgrade fundamental spaces like a science building.

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PearlY 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree that 10 classrooms is reasonable given current and projected enrollment and science requirements. I don't see anything objectionable about the size of the project.

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pleasant 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Those labs are nicer than the university labs I used for Chem 101 and 102. A room is a room. Its the equipment that needs updating.

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fatherof5 5 months, 3 weeks ago

It is both equipment and space, and some of the equipment raises regulatory challenges.

In fact, the space required for many labs is not available in Wa-Hi's science classrooms. Today's science education standards would suggest these rooms were built with workspace adequate for 12 students, not the 32 that are crammed in them. New equipment won't create space. (It will actually consume space.)

Additionally, some of the significant ventilation and plumbing issues that would need to be addressed would put the remodel into the realm of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would raise a whole lot of other, quite expensive issues.

These issues of both space and equipment mean that the current AP Bio, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry classes are only able to conduct about half of the labs REQUIRED by AP standards. Wa-Hi is currently not really compliant. Some labs are not doable. Many of the labs have to simply be demonstrated by the teacher in front of the class with no hands on experience for the students.

You speak of Wa-Hi's labs being "nicer than university labs." I have heard from more than one Whitman science professor who views the current classrooms as not merely substandard, but deplorable.

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Doceo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Pleasant, would you mind indicating where and when you went to university?

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jace12 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Maybe the cost is 10 million just in case there is any left over,so something else may need to be done on the list of wants? And...what happens if not all the funding is used? Does it go back to the taxpayers? I don't think I have heard an answer to this yet.

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fatherof5 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The bond is specifically written to focus on this project only, and to return any excess funds back to the taxpayers. Here is the bond resolution URL where this is specified in Section 5: http://www.wwps.org/images/atoz/wahibond2014/Res02-2014-WWHS-Facilities-Bond-042214.pdf

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fatherof5 5 months, 2 weeks ago

And just to clarify three things, jace12, since you are clearly alluding to the 2006 Edison bond: 1) This is a new school board since 2006; 2) the district administration is new since 2006; and 3) here is the text from the Edison bond that voters approved:

"... This proposition authorizes the district to replace Edison Elementary with a new elementary school and pay for other capital improvements; issue $19,500,000 of general obligation bonds maturing within 13 years ..."

Voters approved a bond in 2006 which explicitly stated its intention to "pay for other capital improvements." This new bond, however, with a new Board and a new superintendent, explicitly states that any excess funds are returned to the voters.

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