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More input needed in next Cheney bond vote

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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In Our Opinion

On April 28 the Cheney School District will rerun its $44.88 million bond issue intended to fund a massive remodeling of Cheney High School.

Call it "Bond Version 2.0" if you will as if it were compared to the latest release of a software product.

The district's revised effort attempts to address minor glitches that they think resulted in the Feb. 10 ballot measure that fell about 1.5 percent — 100 voters or so we're told — short of the 60 percent needed for passage.

But is this version being rushed to taxpayers too soon — and too fast? The Cheney Free Press editorial board thinks so.

While we know there's a definite need to address growing enrollment across the district, better facilities and a safer environment, we also have a number of questions that do not seem to have been adequately addressed.

And that might be why voters, only 37 percent of whom cast a ballot, failed to provide enough yes votes.

If you're going to increase the capacity of the high school from its original 900 to a projected 1,800 students, at what point does its footprint become too large for that area? In other words it occupies a space necessary to house a small college.

When first built in the mid 1960s, Cheney High sat relatively isolated nestled between Sixth and Eighth avenues in the north part of town. Since then the campus has become surrounded by housing developments such as Golden Hills and Harvest Bluff.

There in lies one of our major concerns.

This project potentially has the unintended consequence of overtaxing infrastructure from a traffic standpoint with no way to accommodate it. And Cheney High's growth is just one of the issues. Eastern Washington University is also attracting new students at an unprecedented rate.

Streets around the high school are already busy and will be more crowded when factoring in EWU.

Another question is the proposed building renovation itself.

Some who attended a recent meeting to discuss the bond have suggested a more lengthy and involved conversation.

What is currently being offered is called "design-build" and is more of a conceptual idea presented by NAC Architects.

Some at the March 17 meeting asked why not reverse the process and find out what the building will actually look like, and therefore present a more concrete cost to voters?

Doesn't spending this kind of money deserve an actual concept, such as in 2012 when Spokane spent $41 million to expand their convention center and requested public input on competitive designs?

There's the question of adding more space for students — essentially doubling the capacity of the original building. A1993 renovation got us to where we are now and pushed the footprint about as far as it can go.

Now the only way is up. But that too is hampered and limited since the 1993 remodel's footings likely cannot support the weight of a second story.

And as the Cheney School District tries to repackage the bond in a better box, there's the issue with residents of Airway Heights — and other parts of the West Plains — who think there needs to be a discussion about building another high school in their neck of the West Plains woods.

While they've been told such an idea is too costly - estimated at around $120 million - these are some of the people who cast enough no votes to not pass the original bond.

These are district patrons who see their kids being bussed significant distances to both middle and high school. They, or the people that follow them in their home, will be asked to spend another $45 million in another 10 years for Phase Two of the project, renovating today's structure to modern standards.

Then, some 20 years and nearly $90 million later, the "new" Cheney High School will still not be remotely geographically central to a significant part of the district.

To their credit the Cheney School District and a citizen's advisory committee on the high school remodel have done a lot of homework.

But like software developers who rush a product to market and then have to deal with bugs and the patches needed to fix the problem, we think the district needs to take their time, engage in more public and publicized discussion, and make sure they get it right.

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Original Publication Date: March 26, 2015

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