Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The Washington school board voted unanimously Wednesday night to build an addition to the high school to replace the district’s aging middle school.
The project will install a 19,000-square-foot wing onto the high school building with classrooms to host grades six through eight. It also will build a 21,000-square-foot, two-story extension of the high school, extend 9,550 square feet of gymnasium space, and renovate another 52,500 square feet of the existing high school building.
Superintendent Willie Stone said that construction would begin in 2023, and that while the building and all additions would be usable by 2025, some aspects of renovations, such as window replacements, would come as late as 2029.
Advocates said the move would minimize taxes and update the aging high school, which was built in the 1960s, with interior renovations and an HVAC system.
“It doesn’t raise taxes, it makes sense, and it takes care of all our buildings,” Stone said. “If we do the new building, we’re still going to have $10 million of work to the middle school building that has to happen.”
Stone said the $24 million project would not raise taxes as long as voters agreed to maintain bond prices at $2.70 in a special election Sept. 14.
“If we do not pass a bond issue we will not be building, period,” he said at the meeting. “There’s no financial way for us to do it.”
While it can’t guarantee the bond issue, the district has plans to raise awareness and turnout for the special election.
“The plan is to have a committee get out and talk to people to show them what we’re doing, be very transparent and answer any questions that come up,” Stone said. “We just try to do our best to ensure that people know exactly what they’re voting on, and ultimately it comes down to whether we want to try to improve the educational environment for our students.”
Despite the close margins of a district-run poll showing a less than 10% split among community members in favor of the high school add-on, board members raised little opposition to the option.
“I do not understand, if it’s not raising your taxes, and it’s making a better environment for our children, why you would not be for that?” board member Troy Suchan said at the meeting.
Board members conceded the drawback of a potentially disruptive and lengthy construction period but agreed that the benefits outweighed having a jump in property taxes necessitated if they chose to build a new school. This is particularly pertinent in an agriculture-heavy community like Washington County.
“In a perfect world, if we didn’t have to worry about raising anyone’s taxes to build a brand-new building, that would be awesome,” Suchan said. “That’s what everybody would want, but that’s not reality.”
Board member Heidi Vittetoe said the combined building would maximize the district’s efficiency to improve learning experiences.
“To go and build another place, you lose the dual functionality,” she said. “It’s easy to build stuff, it’s harder to make education happen. If, as a result of this project, we create better logistics in which education can be delivered, that alone can be pretty important.”