Delta High may be built elsewhere

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 15, 2012 

— A new building for Delta High School, estimated to cost at least $15 million, may not be on the school's present Richland campus, despite the Richland School District's plan to buy the land for it.

Unless Richland School Board members OK agreements signed by board members in the Pasco and Kennewick school districts by the end of this month, the Washington State Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Foundation and the other partners would look at building a permanent home for Delta High elsewhere.

"The rest of us are ready to move forward now, and we can't wait," Tom Yount, president of the foundation's board, told the Herald on Wednesday after speaking to the Richland School Board on Tuesday night.

Richland board Chairman Rick Jansons said the board has no plans to bring up Delta High in either of its next two meetings.

The board doesn't understand the necessity of committing millions of dollars up front with the chance of not being repaid, Jansons said.

Jansons also said Delta High could continue to operate indefinitely because the board agreed to buy its present campus near downtown Richland weeks ago. However, the deal hasn't closed because Richland hasn't signed the Delta High agreements, according to officials from Columbia Basin College, which owns the property.

"We want the interlocal agreement as part of the final deed of sale," said CBC President Rich Cummins.

The districts cooperatively operate Delta High, which focuses on STEM education, with support from the foundation and other private partners such as Battelle.

The STEM foundation was charged with securing money to build a permanent building for the school, but those efforts haven't raised it as quickly as initially hoped, partially because of the recession.

The foundation, Kennewick and Pasco school districts, and other partners now want to ask the Legislature for funding, and Yount said the project also has support from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The school is a state-designated innovative school, which means it has implemented bold, creative and innovative ideas.

After meeting in June and agreeing to move toward building a new Delta High building, all three districts and the foundation began developing agreements to buy the property the school now uses and to get construction financing. Pasco and Kennewick have already set aside money to pay for their share of design and other preliminary costs.

But Richland board members tabled the agreements in late September. District officials have said they wanted to give the foundation more time to raise money for the project, but Jansons told the Herald the board is concerned about the financial liability of putting money up for the project with no guarantee the Legislature would fund it.

"Our concern is being fiscally responsible," he said.

But Yount said that if the foundation and other partners ask state lawmakers for money, there needs to be a host district to receive the funding, as well as an interlocal agreement to demonstrate the school's stability. He also said time is of the essence, as interest at the state level to fund the project could wane.

Yount and representatives from the other partners connected to Delta High want to move forward with Richland. Yount acknowledged the Richland board is occupied with its $98 million bond proposal. Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill said the goal is to keep the partnership together.

"We are fully hopeful that Richland will move forward with (the June) plan," she said.

Hill, Yount and others said no consideration had been given to where Delta High would be built if Richland didn't sign the agreements. But everyone else is ready to move ahead. The Kennewick School District already has agreed to use money left over from renovation projects at its elementary schools -- up to $2 million -- to build a new Delta High.

"The Kennewick School District remains committed to the plan for a permanent Delta facility that was developed and agreed upon by the three superintendents and board presidents in June 2012," Kennewick spokeswoman Lorraine Cooper said in an email.

Jansons said part of the reason the Richland board is hesitant to move quickly is that Delta High isn't in danger of closing. The board agreed in early October to close a purchase deal for the school's campus from CBC, costing about $1.18 million. Jansons said the deal may not have closed yet, but officials from CBC and the district have signed and notarized documents.

"We know the school's not in jeopardy at all," Jansons said.

However, that purchase doesn't cover several classrooms used by Delta High in a neighboring building owned by CBC to ease overcrowding. Those rooms won't be available after the 2013-14 school year, according to CBC officials. And Cummins said it was part of the deal that Richland would jointly own the property with the Kennewick and Pasco districts, making Richland's commitment to the agreements crucial.

"That has been communicated to (Richland's) superintendent and the district's lawyer," Cummins said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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