Forty hours of analysis, 18 committee members, 16 months of 14 meetings and 13 separate studies were boiled down into a 90-minute presentation on current Walla Walla, Wash., school building needs Tuesday night.

The district's Community Facilities Task Force Chairman Paul Schneidmiller took the lead in presenting two options for the board to consider for a 2018 taxing measure.

Green Park School in Walla Walla, Wash.
Green Park School in Walla Walla, Wash. Jon Roanhaus [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Option 1 is a bond of $65.6 million to address aging infrastructure, cramped classrooms, handicap access, parking and bus flow, safety and security systems and roofing at Walla Walla and Lincoln High schools, plus Pioneer Middle School. Elementary schools and Garrison Middle School will also see some renovations.

Option 2 calls for $73.9 million in a bond to pay for those projects but also to cover additional building and campus improvements across the district.

The two options will go out for public feedback in the form of surveys and community presentations. In April the committee will make a final recommendation to the board, which will decide in May what to put before voters on November's ballot.

The school district is eligible for about $53 million in Washington state matching funds if a bond is passed, since it has not tapped that source for 25 years, when Garrison Middle School was remodeled, officials said.

The task force members, most not officially affiliated with the district, commissioned studies to learn the extent of the district's most immediate and pressing needs, Schneidmiller explained. Those included:

  • Safety and security reviews form local law enforcement officials and on-site evaluations by national experts.
  • A history of school bond votes here, both successful and not.
  • Facilities inspections and reports by Washington state's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  • Student enrollment and capacity.
  • Tax rate analysis.
  • Energy efficiency audit.
  • Superintendent emphasized the physical upgrades and improvements are needs, wants.

Heath Gardner, a project manager with Wenaha Group, which is consulting with the district on facilities needs, noted the district's maintenance department "has done a fantastic job over the years. The report showed there are a lot of things working that probably shouldn't."

The work is particularly impressive in buildings such as Lincoln High School, built in 1927, and Pioneer Middle School, constructed in 1950, he added.

Given the restrictions of both bond options, however, his study focused on renovation over replacement, prioritizing infrastructure, safety, traffic flow and energy needs, Gardner said at Tuesday's meeting.

Critical needs are not going to go away, task force member Chris Garratt said.

"But we were very cautious to separate out 'need to have' from 'nice to have," he said, adding the group's final report contains "no secret or pet projects."

Construction costs will only rise if the needs aren't met, Garratt told the room.

Schneidmiller said the time has now come to see what voters in the school district will go along with in a property tax measure.

"That's what this next three months is for," he said.

Tribune Content Agency