State lawmakers provide $5.4 million for new Delta High

State lawmakers will provide $5.4 million for a new Delta High School, the final piece needed to start construction.

The capital projects budget was approved by the Legislature this weekend as it wrapped up a second special session, according to a release from the Washington State STEM Education Foundation. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

"That was the last piece of puzzle," said Tom Yount, the foundation's president.

The Tri-City school districts that operate the STEM-focused high school, as well as private supporters and state education officials, have worked for months to secure the $15 million to $18 million needed to build Delta High a new 45,000-square-foot home on Road 100 in west Pasco.

It's unclear when construction would start but the districts have already started moving forward on aspects of the project. Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill said in late May that if the districts secured all the money in time, builders could start bidding for the project this winter.

Delta High enrolls about 340 students and its first senior class graduated in June. Along with a STEM emphasis, the school's teachers tie all subjects together and there's strong components of group work and real-world application of learning.

The school currently uses buildings owned by Columbia Basin College on Northgate Avenue in Richland, as well as some classrooms in a neighboring building. The current lease ends in 2014 and school officials said more room is needed to accommodate students.

The districts and their partners have worked since last summer to find a new home for the school. Their plans were delayed when the Richland School Board raised concerns about financial liability if not enough money was raised by the foundation to pay for the project.

That led to a new funding approach for the project: the districts asked state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to provide a 90-percent match to cover the bulk of construction, while the foundation sought additional money from the Legislature. The foundation would provide money for costs not covered by state lawmakers or the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Dorn agreed to provide between $10 million and $12 million in May, providing the bulk of the money needed.

Yount said initial versions of the state's capital projects budget did not include money for Delta High. That led to the school's supporters putting more pressure on lawmakers and enlisting the help of others, including state Sen. Sharon Brown of Kennewick.

"Delta is just too important. It's critical to our state as an example of the innovative teaching and education necessary to ensure that students in Washington are ready to compete globally," Brown said in a news release from the Washington State STEM Education Foundation.