This week, the Central Valley School Board once again has taken up the ticklish task of rebuilding its two high schools.
At a work session on Monday, board members tackled such questions as what improvements the two aging school buildings need, the amount of funding needed and the possible timing of a bond election.
No official decisions were made. A formal plan will emerge after more discussion at school board meetings this spring.
Yet, circumstances appear to push the board toward a bond issue of between $50 million and $70 million to build two basically new high schools.
Under such a plan, it’s likely the new University High School would be built on school district property at 32nd and Pines. The new Central Valley High School would be rebuilt on the present CV campus, keeping the current gym, but with a new main building set further back from Sullivan.
At least, that’s the vision of Superintendent Wally Stanley.
The school board learned in four failed bond elections early in the 1990s that the community apparently does not want to modernize one high school while the other waits in the wings.
“I think this community has made it clear they would support doing both at the same time, but not one at a time,” Stanley said. “Unless there are major changes in the community, we need to make both high schools end up being of equal value.”
Stanley also is clear that he believes the current U-Hi site is unworkable.
“I have been talking with board members and everyone I see to try to point out the inadequacies of the site and size of the existing U-Hi campus,” he said.
U-Hi today sits on only 23 acres. It’s hemmed in on the east by Sunshine Health Facilities, which offers skilled nursing and residential care. On the other three sides, moderate- and middle-income homes and apartments line the U-Hi campus.
A high school and playing fields for 1,600 students - the eventual enrollment for a new U-Hi with freshmen - would require about 45 acres. That means nearly double today’s U-Hi campus. To stay on the current site, the district would have to buy - or condemn - homes. Stanley won’t say how many.
“I don’t know what the figure would be. I do know the board is not interested in doing that,” he said.
New high schools don’t come cheap. District 81 voters agreed in February to spend $41 million to renovate the historic Lewis and Clark High School. Rogers High School, built in 1933, will receive $5.8 million just to update its auditorium and gymnasium.
Mead School District voters spent $32 million to build the new Mt. Spokane High School, and voted earlier this week on a plan to spend $31 million to renovate the 26-year-old Mead High School. Both Mead and District 81 will receive state money to help with construction.
Stanley has said it will take roughly $35 million to build, or rebuild, each new school. Times two, that’s $70 million. That could cost taxpayers $60 annually per $100,000 of property value.
Or the district could take a slower route, by asking voters to approve only $25 million per school and waiting for state funding of $10 million per school.
Central Valley High is 41 years old; U-Hi is 37 years old.
Problems at the two schools are the typical ones: wiring that can’t handle today’s technology, never mind the future’s. Inadequate heating and air conditioning. Halls that squeeze kids like subway riders. Central Valley was designed to hold 700 to 800 students. It’s been enlarged, but the 1,200 students overwhelm the cafeterias, said CV principal Paul Sturm.
At U-Hi, the situation is much the same. The school’s design, with so many outside doors, leads to extra heating problems and never-ending security problems, said principal Erik Ohlund.
Neither school has an auditorium.
Plus, there’s no place to put ninth-graders. Central Valley School Board members have long wanted to move freshmen from junior highs to the high schools. CV will be the last district in Spokane County to do so.
Superintendent Stanley may be clear in his vision for two new schools, but it’s the school board that must make several tough decisions this spring.
If a new U-Hi is built at 32nd and Pines, what would happen to the old U-Hi?
At least part of the campus would be sold, according to Stanley.
“We would need to pull some revenue out of that property and put it into the new school,” Stanley said.
Another question board members need to decide is timing: When could a bond election be placed on the ballot?
A fall election is possible. That could be in September. The school board is not likely to choose the November ballot, in which legislative races would pull out a large number of voters. Or, the bond election could run in February or March.
Two new high schools in Central Valley will have the greatest impact on students who are now in grade school. If voters pass a bond issue this fall, it would take two years of planning and two years of building. That means today’s fifth graders would enter the new high schools as freshmen.
Central Valley has plenty of challenges to overcome in getting a bond issue passed. But there are signs that this attempt will succeed.
Last month’s maintenance and operations levy passed with 78 percent support. That’s among the highest levy support rates reported across the state in February’s election.
Interest rates are low now and likely to stay low until the fall.
Even the successful 1996 bond campaign may help a new bond campaign. “I think there are positive feelings left over from that bond campaign,” said Patty Minnihan, school board chairwoman.
And there’s another intangible - impatience.
Lewis and Clark will be rebuilt. Mead School District has the spanking new Mt. Spokane High School and a rebuilt Mead High School is on the way. People have begun to ask when Central Valley’s high schools get their turn.
“People are saying we need to do something. And that’s good. We’ve been waiting for that,” Bonuccelli said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)
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