Our Voice: CBC culinary school a game-changer

The plan by Columbia Basin College officials to build a $10 million culinary school and locate it near the cable bridge in Kennewick is exciting news for two big reasons.

The culinary hub will help anchor the new Columbia Gardens Wine and Artisan Village being developed in east Kennewick. And the new school will allow students interested in the culinary arts to get their extended training in the Tri-Cities.

This is a game-changing idea the community should embrace.

CBC has given itself four years to raise the money needed to build the two-story, 20,000-square-foot culinary school. It will feature an event center, two or three kitchens and a student-run restaurant and bakery.

CBC President Rich Cummins said he and others toured culinary schools around the Northwest — including those at community colleges in Spokane and Walla Walla — before firming up the proposal.

He said they “pulled the best parts” of what they saw and then combined them to develop their own program.

Students who finish at the CBC culinary school will earn an associate in applied science degree and will be ready to work in a professional setting as chefs and bakers.

Cummins also said that CBC’s applied business management courses will tie in to the program so students can get the skills they need to work as supervisors if they so choose.

This college-level program will be especially beneficial to high school kids who get a start in the culinary arts at the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick. Paul Randall, Tri-Tech director, called it a great “one-two punch” for students.

There are 55 students enrolled in Tri-Tech’s culinary track, which allows teens to learn the basics and get a head start on working in the field. It traditionally has been a popular class at Tri-Tech.

High school students who complete the course can take a written exit test and a practical exam — proctored by local chefs — in order to earn a junior culinary certificate through the American Culinary Federation.

It is a great beginning, but if students want more training, they have to leave the Tri-Cities to get it.

That needs to change.

Cummins said a development district will be formed to raise public and private money for CBC’s new culinary addition. This is the same approach used to secure the funding for the wine science center at Washington State University Tri-Cities, which is proof it can be done.

CBC is making a bold choice to start its own culinary program, and we applaud the effort. The timing is right and the community needs it.

And the site picked out for the new school could not be better. Locating the culinary school near the wine village in Kennewick makes perfect sense.

The Port of Kennewick, in partnership with the city, is transforming property it owns on Columbia Drive from a stretch of rundown buildings to a wine-centered destination for visitors. Construction on the first buildings is supposed to begin this month.

The culinary school is a terrific fit to that vision, which is getting closer to reality all the time.