In August, the Wallowa School District started along the road to a better school, taking advantage of the Oregon Department of Education Technical Assistance (TAP) grant program to evaluate and improve their facilities and develop a plan for the future. Last week the school board took the big first step, inviting the entire community for a tour of the school facilities, and an opportunity to include their concerns, experiences, and dreams in the next generation of school improvements. While the school board, who is directing the project, appealed to some specific community leaders to attend, they also invited broad participation by any and all who live in Wallowa. The event was preceded by similar sessions for students and educators.

Wallowa used its 2019 TAP grant to hire Pivot consultants, based in Eugene, to inventory and inspect the school’s physical plant. Pivot’s study will help determine what repairs are needed, and what classroom upgrades might be appropriate to the school’s long-range educational plan.

But before any plan for improvements can be made, the Wallowa School board wants to know and incorporate the needs of educators, students, and the entire community into the design.

“We don’t have all the technical reports yet,” said School Board President Woody Wolfe. “It’s important that the community sees the facilities, and participates in the planning that will eventually come out of the report and their vision. This evening is a first, and a very important, step in community involvement. This school is at the heart of the community, and we want to plan together.”

The evening began with a tour through the athletic facilities, including the labyrinth of locker rooms beneath the gym, where high school principal David Howe recounted some of the issues that arose in the narrow and cramped spaces. Those included an incoming girls volleyball team having to postpone game preparation because the boys football team was still in the showers. “Those locker rooms were pretty old and they smelled sort of moldy,” said one community member who asked not to be named.

Next on the tour was the boiler room, where journeyman heating technician and head of building maintenance, Jake McDonald, discussed the vintage heating system’s issues. They included relatively high fuel consumption, production of soot that needed to be cleaned daily, and the requirement to pull the front part of the ducting off and clean it weekly. “They don’t make parts for this anymore,” he said. Sometimes I have to jury-rig or just make something. But luckily Banes (Electric) in Enterprise still has some things we can use. They let me go through the boxes on the top shelves in the back of their store until I find something that will work.” The tour continued through both high school and elementary school, visiting classrooms and labs.

At the end of the tour, community members teamed up to provide comments about the Wallowa’s community needs, the businesses, nonprofits and other resources available to the school, and their vision of the future for the town and its educational system. The three groups were guided and moderated by Pivot staff members John Stapleton, Kelly Howell, and Michelle Hunt. Concepts included the need for more activities for youth, concerns about traffic speeding through town, and the possibility of future collaborative programs with the Oregon Department of Forestry in Wallowa as well as the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Homeland Project.

In the next step, Pivot Consultants will provide a summary of community members’, educators’, and students’ comments. Then the school board will be better able to understand how the school can help meet community needs, and how school and community can develop a school plan that will prepare Wallowa for a prosperous and enduring future. Once the technical report is available in another week or two, planning and more meetings will be in the future for Wallowa and its school district.

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