The Richland School Board's recent decision to hold up agreements to build a permanent home for Delta High School won't delay efforts to secure state matching dollars and designs for the project
The Pasco and Kennewick school districts agreed this week to pursue construction for the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) school of 400 students, estimated to cost $18 million. Richland board members, however, want to wait until late spring for the Washington STEM Foundation to raise more money for the project.
But that could change. Thursday discussions between the foundation, legislative leaders and Richland school officials might lead to the Richland board reconsidering support for the agreements.
Even if agreements to move forward are delayed, work is expected to continue on getting the school built in the next two years.
"The three districts, along with our community partners, have overcome many obstacles and challenges to make Delta High School a reality, and we are confident that we can work together to resolve any issues," said Leslee Caul, spokeswoman for the Pasco schools and Delta High, in a release.
Delta High is jointly operated by the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts with support from the foundation and its private partners. It uses buildings belonging to Columbia Basin College in downtown Richland, as well as classrooms in a neighboring building used by CBC students.
CBC officials have told the districts they'll need the classrooms after the 2013-14 school year. That deadline has fed into a desire to build the school sooner rather than later.
The foundation and the school's private partners were charged with building a facility for Delta High when it was developed four years ago, but fundraising hasn't been sufficient, largely because of the economy, officials said.
That lead the districts to consider a financing plan themselves, potentially using state matching dollars, and with the foundation providing what the state didn't. The bulk of the money, about $15.7 million, is expected to come from state matching dollars, legislative appropriations and foundation money.
Phil Ohl, the foundation's president, said the foundation has collected $700,000 for the project, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars more in confirmed pledges. He said state Superintendent Randy Dorn is supportive of the project, and an estimated $1.5 million is expected to be collected from unanswered requests for funding from businesses and individuals, he said.
Kennewick already is looking to use a portion of the money left from a 2009 bond issue to help pay its share of the costs of the project, estimated to be about $666,000 per district.
However, Richland school board members tabled the agreements for the project Tuesday. Superintendent Jim Busey said board members wanted to wait after the next legislative session, which starts in January, to give the foundation more time to raise money for the project.
The district already is asking voters to approve a $98 million bond in February to pay to build two new schools, rebuild three elementary schools and various other projects. Busey said the bond was a part of the board's discussions regarding the Delta High project.
Richland's decision prompted Ohl, foundation executive director Karen Baker and state Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, to meet with Busey and two board members Thursday night.
Ohl and Busey said the meeting cleared up some of the concerns the district had, specifically how much Richland could be on the hook for if anticipated state matching dollars don't come in.
"If it doesn't happen, we go back to us raising private dollars," Ohl said.
Busey said it's possible that Richland board members could revisit the agreements at their next regular board meeting Oct. 9. But work on the project can continue despite Richland's delay, Caul said.
The school's design is being developed. The process of pursuing state matching dollars, which could end up covering as much as 90 percent of the project's costs, is under way, and school officials are awaiting replies from the state.
"As with any project, extra time was built into the schedule, so there is not a problem with the timeline," Caul said.