This election season has not been short on hyperbole. Whether Democrat or Republican, the buzz was that the results of this election would be “like no other,” critical to our democracy. And, in the coming years, whether that is true will be revealed.
But what is abundantly clear today is the tremendous support for the Walla Walla School District bond — a whopping 71 percent approved — will enhance education in the Valley for years to come.
The Walla Walla High School campus, which has remained beautiful since the buildings were put up in the 1960s, will finally be remodeled and upgraded so it will meet the needs of students — everything from state-of-the-art technology to functioning heating and cooling systems. Pioneer Middle School and Lincoln High School will also get badly needed upgrades. Lincoln, in particular, needs major renovation, as the high school is housed in the old Paine Elementary School that was built in 1927, two years before the Great Depression.
The strong support Tuesday — from Republicans, Democrats and independents — shows the community understood the need for upgrading the schools and it trusts school officials will deliver on their promises. Voters expect every penny of the $118.2 million — $65.6 million bond and $52.6 million in state matching funds — will be spent prudently.
Over the past two decades, as Wa-Hi bond after Wa-Hi bond failed, lack of trust was seen as the reason.
Regaining trust seems to have been Job One for Superintendent Wade Smith, who took the helm of the district in the summer of 2016. Smith met with individuals throughout the community for months after his arrival to gain their perspectives on what the Walla Walla School District has been doing right — and wrong. He specifically asked that those he talked with be brutally honest.
As the process of determining what buildings would be upgraded, and at what price, moved forward, Smith insisted the Community Facilities Task Force consider what would be best for Walla Walla and whether this is something voters would support.
The plan, which was formulated by the Task Force (which included members who were against previous bonds), won’t alter the basic looks of these schools. This is renovation and upgrading, not building anew. The proposal calls for $77.25 million to be spent at Wa-Hi, $23.35 million at Pioneer and $10.97 million at Lincoln. The work being done is long overdue. The remaining $7 million will be used for upgrades at some of the other schools.
In addition — and we believe this is huge — an 11-member citizen Bond Oversight Committee has been established to carefully and independently monitor bond spending.
Tuesday’s election results gave Walla Walla Public Schools the green light to bring three well-worn and outdated schools into the 21st century. Voters should congratulate themselves.