Walla Walla voters to weigh $48M school bond

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 8, 2012 

WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla School Board members will ask voters to approve a $48 million bond in February to modernize Walla Walla High School.

It is the third schools-related bond going on the ballot in February in the Mid-Columbia, joining bond proposals from the Pasco and Richland school districts.

If approved, the Walla Walla High project would take two years to complete and overhaul buildings throughout the school's campus, with improved facilities for academics, the arts and athletics.

Walla Walla High was built in 1963 and includes classrooms for science and math and other academics, music and drama space and commons and library. The school, which has more than 1,800 students, also uses portable classrooms to house students.

If voters approve the bond, all the permanent structures would be repurposed to reduce construction costs, according to information provided by the district. Once complete, the school would have more and larger classrooms, improved science labs, new technology infrastructure, new music and drama spaces, an all-weather track and a larger lunchroom.

The total project cost would be $69.6 million, with $21.6 million coming from state matching dollars. Taxpayers would pay 68 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value, or $68 a year for a $100,000 home.

The current district rate of $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed value would go up to $1.95 per $1,000 through 2018, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin reported.

Residents then would see the tax rate drop to $1.15 per $1,000. Walla Walla Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Pat Johnston said the reason the rate will drop in about six years is because the Edison Elementary project bond will be paid off in that time. The district also is poised to pay off its Sharpstein Elementary School bond next month, the Union-Bulletin reported.

The Walla Walla district hired an architectural firm in early 2011 to begin work on the high school proposal, but potential plans were halted earlier this year after College Place voters approved a bond to establish a high school, ending an era of College Place high school students attending Wa-Hi, the Union-Bulletin reported.

As a result, Wa-Hi stands to lose about 350 students starting about 2017. Walla Walla spent the ensuing months revising its proposal to reflect the potential decrease in enrollment, and to adjust for lost revenue, the Union-Bulletin said.

Pasco school officials are seeking voter approval of a bond worth more than $46 million to help pay for two new elementary schools and an early learning center. The new schools are needed to help the district keep up with enrollment and avoid a multi-track school year or double-shifting students.

The Richland School District will have a $98 million bond on the ballot. If approved, it would pay for a new elementary and new middle schools in south Richland and west of Richland, the rebuilding of three elementary schools in central Richland, the repurposing of Jefferson Elementary School as a home for Three Rivers HomeLink, replacement of the heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School and improvements at Fran Rish Stadium.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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