Delta High School's new facility might not end up in Richland

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 12, 2012 

The Richland and Pasco school districts have signed agreements to build a new facility for Delta High School, but it may not be in Richland.

School officials and supporters of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, high school have said the agreements are critical to providing for Delta's future. The Kennewick School Board is planning to review the agreements tonight. "This was a gateway decision," said Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill.

But the documents signed Tuesday night don't specify Delta High's future location.

Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill and Richland School Board Chairman Rick Jansons told the Herald the districts are considering the best site for the school, adding that there are benefits and disadvantages to the school's present location.

"We'll search for the best, most cost-effective location," Jansons said.

Delta High, which has about 400 students and will have its first graduating class this spring, is jointly operated by the three school districts. The Washington State STEM Education Foundation and other private partners also support the school.

The STEM school presently operates out of buildings leased from Columbia Basin College near downtown Richland, and also uses some classrooms in a neighboring building owned and used by CBC.

The districts had discussed Delta High's need for a bigger and updated facility this past summer and had begun moving forward on that plan. But the Richland board members were hesitant to sign onto the agreements in the fall, citing financing concerns and wanting to give the foundation more time to raise money for construction.

Richland's reticence led school leaders in Pasco and Kennewick and the foundation to tell Richland it had until the end of November to approve the agreements or risk being cut out of the efforts to build a new school, including relocating it to another Tri-City site.

Richland eventually signed on during a special meeting Nov. 29, after the foundation agreed to backfill the project's budget should requests for money from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Legislature fall short.

However, the board had to revisit the agreements Tuesday night because of some final edits, which included no specifics on where the new Delta High would be built.

Hill said there were benefits to the school's present location, as it is near CBC, the Richland Public Library and internship opportunities for students. However, the site is small and it would be difficult to build there while school is in session.

Jansons said conducting construction at the same time as classes was the biggest hurdle to building at the school's present site. He admitted, though, that his personal preference would be to keep Delta High in Richland.

Hill and Jansons said it hasn't been decided to actually move the school, as the districts are still considering other sites. However, both said it was critical to get the agreements signed so efforts to secure money for the project could move forward.

"This was an important milestone," Hill said.

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