Delta High School eyes new wing in 2012

RICHLAND -- The Tri-Cities' high school that prepares students for careers in science and technology might get a new wing next year, if the foundation that takes care of the school's finances can line up money for the project soon enough.

Delta High School, a public school open to students from the Kennewick, Richland and Pasco school districts, focuses on science, technology, engineering and math -- or STEM -- education.

The school is being touted as a model for others around the state, and Sen. Maria Cantwell plans to visit Delta today to unveil federal legislation in support of STEM education.

The school trains a small cross-section of Tri-City students -- about 200 attend Delta this school year, said Principal Deidre Holmberg. Delta opened in the fall of 2009 with a class of freshmen.

After this summer, when it will house grades 9 through 11, things will be tight on the Richland campus.

"We'll be a couple of classrooms shy for having all three grades on campus this fall," Holmberg said. "But the rubber really hits the road in the next school year."

By August 2012, Delta will have students in all four high school grades, and there won't be room for them in the building on Northgate Drive that the school foundation leases from Columbia Basin College.

Delta is a private-public partnership. Members of the Tri-Cities' research community sit on the board of the foundation that runs the school, as do the superintendents of the three school districts.

Until recently, the STEM foundation had discussed getting Delta a new building sometime in the near future. But the economy has pushed that date further out, and a couple of weeks ago the foundation decided the school would stay in the CBC building for now, Holmberg said.

But they still need the extra room, which is why the foundation has asked CBC to look into adding more space to Delta's building, said Bill Saraceno, CBC vice president of administration.

Delta needs to add about 4,500 square feet of classroom and lab space, Saraceno said. Considering room for hallways, stairs and bathrooms, about 6,000 square feet would have to be added to the building, he said.

The project is in the predesign stage, but rough estimates for the construction costs run about $1.8 million to $2.6 million. As Delta's landlord, CBC would build the extra space and then lease it to the high school.

To pay for the construction, CBC would take out a loan from the Office of the State Treasurer. The STEM Foundation would guarantee the loan, Saraceno said.

The project still is in its early stages, but would have to move quickly for students to move in by the fall of 2012.

The problem is that the state process to approve the loan is lengthy and needs to be initiated soon, but the foundation doesn't have money for the repayment lined up yet, said its president, Phil Ohl.

This means CBC needs to go "through the motions" as if the project is going ahead while the foundation ramps up its capital campaign, he said.

"We are looking at state money, national foundations and federal dollars," Ohl said. "The (project price) is not so outrageous that we couldn't repay the loan in full at once."

Paying for the project definitely will not involve local bond measures, Ohl said.

Construction could begin as early as August or September, Saraceno said.

Today, Sen. Cantwell will lead a discussion group on STEM education, held at Delta. The senator will explain a bill she will introduce in the U.S. Senate to address shortcomings in STEM education, particularly among women and minorities.

The discussion will be at the Delta campus, 901 Northgate Drive, Richland, at 12:15 p.m.

Parents and students interested in STEM education at Delta can attend one of the upcoming events to see if the small school and its hands-on teaching style are right for them. Teachers, current students and parents will be on hand to answer questions.

The events are scheduled at the following times:

* Kennewick School District -- 5-7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, at the administration center at 1000 W. Fourth Ave.

* Pasco School District -- 5-7:30 p.m. Feb. 1, C.L. Booth Education Center at 1215 W. Lewis Street.

* Richland School District -- Date and location to be announced.