Gib Olinger Elementary School in Milton-Freewater

The entrance to Gib Olinger Elementary School in Milton-Freewater leads into a secure lobby before opening into the school’s spacious commons area. That space will be used both for school and community events.

MILTON-FREEWATER — For Aaron Duff, everything going into the new Gib Olinger Elementary School has to pass a math test of sorts.

“Will it last 100 years? That’s my mantra, because that was the last time we got a new school.”

As the Milton-Freewater Unified School District’s director of business and operations, Duff has overseen just about every decision made for the first, from-scratch school built in the community since 1921. And he’s determined those choices will withstand the test of time.

“Gib,” as the new school is nicknamed, will house about 550 students in kindergarten through third grade. The new campus, plus renovations and upgrades to other district buildings, come courtesy of a $31.5 million school bond package approved by voters two years ago.

Getting a new school stocked and loaded is more complex than most people realize, Duff said, and that’s a reason school districts hire consultants for the job.

But that would take money from the school bond pot — potentially as much as $100,000 — so Duff took on the job himself.

Superintendent Rob Clark calls such learning opportunities a “growth experience,” Duff said with a smile and a shake of his head.

“So what I did, pretty early on, I started working on a list. I went through every room and put 165 lines on Excel (spreadsheet software), 40 lines wide. I had a sheet for furniture, technology, garbage cans, flags, shred bins, carts …”

Duff took pains to reuse inventory the district already owned for Ferndale and Grove elementary schools, which are both closed now.

Ferndale will reopen in 2019 after receiving extensive repairs and upgrades over the coming school year, while Grove will be demolished at some point.

Not many items, though, were in any condition to be reused.

For example, a student desk has an expected life span of about 12 years, and the Milton-Freewater district’s supply of desks is far beyond that age, Duff said.

“You think about it, you have kids sitting at those desks all day. Things break, things wear out.”

Custodial supplies and technology had the same problem — too many birthdays already.

While he stayed away from the “Cadillac” of possibilities, Duff said his eye really was on that century mark, and that means absorbing the expense necessary to ensure the durability needed for generations of schoolchildren to come.

Some of the supplies, such as classroom furniture, will be arriving next month. A grand opening is set for Aug. 24, and Duff expects most things to be in place; more so when schools here officially open for all on Sept. 4.

But he’s rushing nothing. Take the enormous mural due to be installed on Gib’s commons wall: because the dimensions required the design to be digitized, the art installation won’t be ready until October, if all goes well.

“We could have slammed it together sooner, but it wouldn’t look good,” Duff said. “And it needs to look good for 100 years.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.