Bechtel National donates $250,000 for Delta High School

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 31, 2013 

Standing in a crowded classroom at Delta High School, Frank Russo threw down a gauntlet Wednesday aimed at other Hanford site contractors.

The Bechtel National project manager donated $250,000 on behalf of his company to the Washington State Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, Foundation to help build a new facility for the STEM-focused high school in Richland.

"We all need engineers in the future and this is where engineers are born," Russo said, calling on other Hanford contractors to step up to the plate for Delta High.

School and foundation officials said the donation is one of the first large contributions to the project so far. They said it could go far in building a new home for Delta High, both in rallying state lawmakers and donors to the cause.

"There have been others who have been interested so we're hoping it will open the floodgates," said Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill.

Delta High is jointly operated by the Pasco, Richland and Kennewick school districts, with support from the foundation and private partners. It has about 340 students and will graduate its first senior class this spring.

The school uses buildings owned by Columbia Basin College near downtown Richland, as well as some classrooms in a neighboring building. The college has said it will need those classrooms back in the future.

With Bechtel National's donation, the foundation has collected $870,000 for the project. The school's supporters said Bechtel National's money will provide a boost to their efforts to ask the Legislature to back the project. Foundation officials will be in Olympia next week to meet with lawmakers.

"This demonstrates to the Legislature the strong community support," said Richland School Board Chairman Rick Jansons.

Phil Ohl, former president of the foundation's board, said the foundation lobbied Bechtel National for a year.

Jean Dunkirk, an attorney with Bechtel National who sits on the foundation's board, was one of the key promoters within her company. She said she campaigned for the donation against other causes, such as the new planetarium at CBC, to which the company contributed $100,000.

"We'd love to fund everything but there isn't enough money," she said.

Russo said Dunkirk didn't have to push him too hard for a donation. He said he is very interested in supporting math and science education because that is what made the U.S. great and will continue to make it great.

"I find this group of young people to be exactly what I wish for in the next generation," Russo said.

Officials with the three school districts last summer planned to ask state lawmakers for the bulk of the money needed to build a Delta High. A new building could cost as much as $15 million by some estimates.

Those efforts, as well as a joint operating agreement for the school, stalled this fall when Richland School Board members raised questions about the project's financing, specifically how fundraising by the foundation had fallen short.

Eventually, cooperative agreements were signed among the three districts, with the Pasco and Kennewick districts responsible for any gap in project financing not covered by a state allocation or donations to the foundation.

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

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