CBC culinary school should move forward and prove critics wrong

Columbia Basin College officials are right not to let skeptics spoil their plans to build a new culinary school in Kennewick.

Despite some community concerns revealed in a recent feasibility study, CBC President Rebekah Woods told the Herald she’s taking steps to ensure the proposal moves ahead.

That’s exactly what she should do.

Two years ago the plan to build a 20,000-square-foot, two-story building devoted to the culinary arts generated a great deal of excitement around the Tri-Cities.

It was thought the new school would help anchor the new Columbia Gardens Wine and Urban Village near the cable bridge in Kennewick.

In addition to being a teaching center, the building is designed to feature an event center and a student-run restaurant and bakery.

The college-level program also would allow high school culinary art students at the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick to finish their training in the Tri-Cities. Currently, they have to leave town to get it.

And CBC is not alone in this endeavor. It has partnered with the Port of Kennewick and the city of Kennewick to locate the school at the property being transformed on Columbia Drive.

That area has been significantly improved by the opening of an urban wine park featuring Victor Palencia’s Monarcha Wines and Bart Fawbush’s Bartholomew Winery, and the culinary school would make an excellent addition.

Bart Fawbush, owner of Bartholomew Winery, moves wine barrels into the Columbia Gardens Wine and Artisan Village in Kennewick. Columbia Basin College is working to flesh out plans for a culinary school at the Port of Kennewick redevelopment site.

We see many benefits in CBC’s proposal, but others apparently disagree.

The Tri-City Herald received a copy of the confidential feasibility study under the Washington Public Records Act, and found that not everyone is sold on the idea.

There were concerns that the site for the school is on “the wrong side of the tracks” and that a better location would be the CBC campus or Richland’s Columbia Point or Pasco’s Osprey Point.

Others complained that culinary schools are facing declining enrollments and that most college students are opting to focus on jobs that pay better wages.

While it’s true that some culinary schools are closing, they are primarily private and expensive.

Those that are successful are more likely to be associated with community colleges and charge less tuition, like Walla Walla Community College’s Wine Country Culinary Institute.

And chefs and bakers are still in demand. Tri-City employers in the restaurant business have said they have difficulty recruiting and retaining quality employees, which is another indication CBC is on the right track with its culinary vision.

Fruit Carving
Tri-Tech Skills Center culinary arts students work on carving melons. File Tri-City Herald

In addition, vocational programs are back on the public education radar.

Gov. Jay Inslee last week made a pitch for the Career Connect Washington program, which focuses on getting high school students on a technical career path.

Over the past few decades, many high schools cut out vocational education courses in order to steer more students on a path to college.

But state officials think the pendulum has swung too far, and now the push is on to also encourage students to seek skilled jobs with the help of internships and apprenticeship programs.

CBC’s culinary arts program, we think, is being considered at just the right time.

Plans now are to form a standing advisory committee and recruit volunteers to develop a business plan that can ensure the culinary school is needed and financially viable.

That’s a logical next step, and we hope that as progress is made those who criticized CBC’s vision someday will see how wrong they were.