In August, the Wallowa School District received a technical assistance program (TAP) grant to assess the condition of the elementary school, high school, gymnasium, and shop (block) building. On Monday evening, their consultants, Pivot Architecture of Eugene, presented preliminary findings of needed and recommended work to the district’s school board. “The community is rightly proud of their schools,” said Pivot team member John Stapleton, “They view the school as the heart of this community, and they want to make the school a place of excellence and a magnet for students and families.”
Repairs and upgrades to school buildings, security systems, and other school facilities from kitchens to classrooms, identified through TAP grants are eligible for additional bond-matching grants of up to $4 million through the Oregon Department of Education’s Oregon School Capital Improvements (OSCIM) program, and another $2.5 million for a seismic upgrade for just one building on a school district’s campus. “It’s a way to double your funds to preserve and improve the school’s buildings and functions,” said superintendent Jay Hummel.
Pivot’s teams of mechanical and structural engineers, architects and other professionals spent several days evaluating the four main buildings in September. Their recommendations at this meeting were not specific, but indicated which systems of the school were in most need of attention. All buildings are in need of seismic upgrades.
Top recommendations for the elementary school included installing a standby generator or battery for use in an emergency, replacing worn flooring, painting the interior, replacing the heating system, and improving ADA accessibility. The high school building drew compliments from the Pivot architects for its well-constructed brick exterior. But like the elementary school, the high school building is in need of upgrades and repairs, including a new heating system, new flooring, baseboards and ceiling tile, ADA accessibility compliance, and re-sealing the exterior of the building. To no-one’s surprise, the gym (Cougar Dome) could also use a new heating system, along with new lighting and a few other things, including some remodeling to make it ADA compliant. The building that appeared to need the most help is the shop, or block building. “It’s a building that houses a really superb shop and Ag program,” Stapleton said. “But it’s in tough shape. It’s sort of a high value program in a beat-up wrapper.” Among other problems, water is seeping into the building’s walls, prompting a recommendation to reseal, and reflash the building, and replace the doors and windows. “If you were to replace any one building on the campus, this would be it,” Stapleton said.
The Pivot report suggested five different options for improvements, from maintaining the existing facility as-is with current funding streams, to full replacement of all buildings, to the even more expensive option of providing full renovations and seismic upgrades to the high school and gym, and replacement of the elementary school and shop or CTE building.
“Just staying the course could have a very high cost if some big thing, like the heating system boiler fails,” said school board member Matt Howard. “The option of not doing anything could be the most expensive in the long run. We need to consider what the schools need, and also what the community can afford.”
The school board asked Pivot to prepare detailed cost estimates for several options. Although not interested in full replacement of all buildings, they requested that Pivot provide that estimate to help them weigh the value of the substantial upgrades and replacements that are now needed. They also requested detailed estimates for an option that include renovations to classrooms, the development of more space for community activities, student collaborative learning, and open space, as well as a “bare bones” cost estimate that would include only the most needed repairs and refurbishments to school buildings. These cost estimates will be presented to the school board in January. Then, after reviewing them, the board will share them and seek the input and comments from the community. “The school is the heart of this community,” said board member Polly DeVore. “We want to take good care of it for the future.”