WALLOWA — It’s been in the planning stage for two years. On May 18, voters in the Wallowa School District will decide whether to fund critically needed new heating, electrical and other updates to its high school, elementary school and gym.
If passed, the $7 million bond measure would be matched by $4 million from the Oregon Department of Education.
“The bond is very important to the school,” school board Chairman Woody Wolfe said. “Our intent was to make (the school renovations) as affordable as possible. But with the matching grant and the bond, that puts us at what we estimate updating the main systems, especially the heating and cooling systems that are really essential, will cost. The money really doesn’t go very far at the cost of prevailing wages.”
The school district is planning to provide tours of the school and the proposed work beginning soon, and will also be posting information on the district’s Facebook page.
The school’s heating system relies on a boiler that is close to failure, according to the school’s head of maintenance Jake McDonald, and the technical report prepared by Pivot, the consultants that assisted the school board in evaluating needed repairs. This winter, the elementary school went two days without heat, Wallowa Superintendent Tammy Jones said.
Replacement costs for a new school would be $54 million, Wolfe said.
The board got estimates for everything from a totally new school to a number of smaller projects that included installing an elevator to ease accessibility in the high school, remodeling some classrooms into more learning friendly spaces and upgrading science labs.
“We really felt that the $7 million bond plus $4 million matching number was trimming out as much as we could and still address the major concerns relative to the age of the infrastructure,” Wolfe said.
To keep expenses as low as possible, Wolfe said, the board limited the proposed work to things it considered absolutely necessary. Those were the accessibility issues, heating and cooling, and electrical. The $11 million total of the $7 million bond and $4 million matching would cover these, some needed renovations in locker rooms in the gym, security renovations, including a more secure fence around the school and a more secure entry so that unknown visitors can’t just stroll into the school, and updates and remodels to some restrooms and other areas to ensure compliance with handicapped accessibility and code requirements.
“Things work now, but the boiler could go at any time. If these systems fail, then we don’t have a functional school, and it would be exorbitantly expensive to replace or repair. It wasn’t an exorbitant wish list. It was, ‘What do we have to do?’” Wolfe said.
Jones noted that, “We haven’t done a whole lot of improvements over time. The last bond was in 1993. We are sitting on a 40-year-old boiler, and some of the piping is original.
“We’ve been going to school when there’s no heat in the building. We didn’t take days off. But there was no heat. The sixth grade classroom has no heat at all, and leaky pipes were flooding it. We tried heating it with (space) heaters, but that blew out the electrical in the school. We need new electrical coming into the school.
“The $7 million bond plus $4 million matching are not going to get us anything fancy or special,” Jones continued. “But this bond is important to the safe, continued operation of our school.”
The exact scope of work will be finalized once the bond is passed. Work is expected to begin in 2022.
“The bond will go to the nuts and bolts of the school,” education board member Mike Lowesaid. “There’s no fluff. It’s just what we need to do to ensure that we have a school in this community in the future.”