CBC wants a culinary school in Kennewick. An internal report is giving it pause

The Port of Kennewick is proceeding with construction near Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village for a planned Columbia Basin College culinary center in the Duffy's Pond area in Kennewick.
The Port of Kennewick is proceeding with construction near Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village for a planned Columbia Basin College culinary center in the Duffy's Pond area in Kennewick. Tri-City Herald

Columbia Basin College wants to flesh out its plan for a culinary school in Kennewick after a feasibility study found skepticism for the idea.

The Pasco college's board of trustees confirmed its support for the project at a special meeting Wednesday, even as it wrestled with negative comments in a study for a potential fund-raising campaign.

The study was commissioned by the CBC Foundation and has been presented to trustees and some staff.

It hasn't been shared with the school's partners, including the city of Kennewick and the Port of Kennewick, and copies were not released at the meeting.

CBC President Rebekah Woods said the school intends to release it once participants are notified. The Tri-City Herald has requested a copy under Washington's Public Records Act.

Envisioning a school

Trustees indicated they were troubled by negative comments even as they took care not to disclose what was said.

"I want this to be successful, but what I've seen so far gives me pause," said David "Duke" Mitchell, vice chairman.

Trustee Sherry Armijo said she was taken aback. However, she noted the study contemplated fund raising, not the program itself. That could have confused some participants.

"I take all the comments with a little grain of salt," she said.

CBC Culinary.jpg
Columbia Basin College 's board committed to fleshing out details of its proposed culinary education center in Kennewick after a feasibility study revealed skepticism. Officials plan to hold a visioning session in July. Courtesy Columbia Basin College

Woods recommended to the board that the school needs to keep working on details. She anticipates a July "visioning" session.

The date has not been set.

"I suggest we spend this year putting meat on the bones," she told trustees.

The college, city and port inked an agreement to develop a culinary program at Columbia Gardens almost two years ago this fall.

While CBC directed its focus to bringing Woods in to succeed former president Rich Cummins, the city and port prepared the area between Duffy's Pond and Columbia Drive for the eventual construction.

Ducks in a row

The culinary school will join the Columbia Gardens Wine and Urban Village complex, the port-led effort to transform the industrial stretch into a visitor destination with wine and food-related amenities.

But CBC is responsible for the culinary school and building.

It has to prove the need for the school, develop a curriculum, identify funding sources and get accreditation from the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

A spokeswoman for the state board said it typically looks for information about potential career and employment opportunities, wages, and if the school has talked with other colleges that have similar programs.

About half of Washington's 34 community and technical colleges offer culinary training, including Spokane and Walla Walla community colleges.

"Our experience with Columbia Basin College is they always, always get their ducks in a row before they apply for a program," said Laura McDowell, the board's communications director.

CBC also faces the difficult task of raising from donors most of the $13 million to construct a 20,000-square-foot, two-story building — the focus of the feasibility study.

A major coup

Its partners said they're not troubled by negativity at this early date.

Without a lot of details, it's understandable that people would feel uncertain about the plan, said Evelyn Lusignan, spokeswoman for the city of Kennewick.

"If you hadn't been down there, you would still think about the cleanup that needed to take place," she said.

Tana Bader Inglima, the port's deputy executive director, said it makes sense for the college move carefully to develop a sustainable program that meets the needs of students and the community.

The culinary school promises to be a major coup for Columbia Gardens and would be the school's first major outpost in Kennewick.

The port of Kennewick debuted the first phase earlier this year with the grand opening of its urban wine park, now occupied by Victor Palencia's Monarcha Wines and Bart Fawbush's Bartholomew Winery.

Hundreds turned out for the ribbon cutting, a sign of strong interest in the move to reconnect downtown Kennewick to its waterfront.

Expect food trucks

As CBC works out the details, the port is preparing to add an additional winery building at Columbia Gardens.

Insurance proceeds from a vacant building that collapsed in a 2017 snowstorm will pay for the 2,500-square-foot addition, which should welcome a new winery tenant next spring.

Big D's Construction is creating a new road and installing utilities for the second phase of Columbia Gardens. The project includes a food truck plaza and bathrooms.

The port is preparing to recruit food trucks for the plaza and hopes to be in operation by this fall.

The current construction has the culinary center on a spot by Duffy's Pond. As envisioned, it will serve 120 students.

Under terms of the culinary school agreement, the city and port are paying for the initial phase of construction with the nearly $1 million secured from the Benton County Rural Capital Fund, fueled by Washington’s 0.09 percent sales tax rebate to local governments to support economic development.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514