With a $95,000 grant under their belt, the Wallowa School District launched their facilities assessment project Monday evening. The nearly two-year process will thoroughly evaluate what repairs and upgrades the school buildings need, including the building physical plants (mechanical, electrical, and heating) and seismic, and also assess the environmental hazard posed by radon. The work also includes development of a long-range plan for the school district, outlining renovations that might occur in the future.
The district has contracted Pivot Architects of Eugene, who will provide the assessment of building and facility conditions, needed repairs, and guide them through the process, including engaging the community and if needed, proposing and passing a bond levy that the Oregon Department of education will match (for up to $4 million). “The board chose Pivot because they had excellent references for small rural school districts, and they seemed to be very knowledgeable and interested in how to work with us to solve problems and involve the community,” said superintendent Jay Hummel.
Wallowa’s principal concern has been the school’s aging, finicky heating system. But they also expect to find other things that need replacement or repair due to deferred maintenance. And there may also be opportunities to remodel and upgrade some facilities, including science labs, shop areas, and art rooms.
“Overall, your buildings are in excellent shape,” Pivot architect Curt Wilson said. “We are here to identify both deficiencies and needed improvements, help with estimating costs and developing a budget, and assist the district and school board in engaging the community in the project. We’ll also help you develop community understanding and support for passing a bond that will be matched equally by the Oregon Department of Education to fund needed work.”
Pivot’s work will also include helping plan how the spaces in the building support the delivery of education in the way that teachers and the board want, and how the buildings’ spaces might be improved. “We recognize that the ongoing conversation between school and the community about what the school’s needs are and where this project might go is rally important,” Wilson said. Talking with your neighbors is part of the process of community engagement. We want to create a great environment for kids and the future of the community, and one that meets the goals and teaching styles of the school.”
The first steps on the road to improved and updated school facilities will start this week, as Pivot’s architects and engineers examine the heating, electrical, and plumbing systems, and evaluate the structural integrity of buildings, as well as the seismic stability of the school. That assessment will be completed by mid-September, including cost estimates. The radon evaluation will be done later in the year, probably November.
While completion of a seismic evaluation might not seem important, it can help substantially in funding building improvements, Wilson said. “Seismic evaluation is the first step to receiving a seismic rehabilitation grant program that would help with structural work. Those grants are up to 2.5 million. That grant needs to be focused on Seismic improvements, but can be done in conjunction with other work.”
Once the assessment is complete, Wallowa will invite staff and faculty to review the documents, to make recommendations and requests for improvements that they would like to see in classrooms. “The staff’s input and recommendations are very, very important,” Hummel said. “We want to have the teachers helping us remodel for the future. “
Wallowa’s assessment process will closely involve the community. It will include two meetings in late September — Sept. 24 to present the assessment to teachers, and September 25th for community information and input. Another public meeting November 18 will follow that to further refine the plan. In early February 2020 the plan and budget would be finalized. Then there would be a bond levy, with the Oregon Department of Education matching the amount of the bond, dollar for dollar, up to $4 million through its Oregon School Capital Improvements (OSCIM) grant program.
Asked what overall goal the school district wants to meet, school board president Woody Wolfe said, “To maintain the viability and longevity of the Wallowa School.”
With students “leaking away” from rural schools this can be a challenge, noted Stapleton. The long range facilities plan that the school and community will develop as part of the assessment will help define the Wallowa School district’s strengths, including its excellent staff, individualized instruction, and role as a center or community life.
“It seems there is a lot of pride and desire to maintain a school in this community,” Wilson said. “That’s a great reason for keeping the buildings in good condition, and preparing them for the future.”