High school skills center gains funding

The Legislature's capital budget includes more than $10 million for a technical skills center to be built on Isaacs Avenue.

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WALLA WALLA -- Construction of a regional technical skills center will begin later this year after the approval of $10.35 million from the state for the project. The money was approved Wednesday by the state Legislature.

The Southeast Area Technical Skills Center will be built at Walla Walla Community College on land off Isaacs Avenue. The college has been leasing the site to Walla Walla Public Schools the last few years for a nominal fee as the funding process for the center has gone through the state.

The Skills Center will be a branch campus of the Tri-Tech Skills Center of the Kennewick School District and serve Walla Walla public high school students. The center will also be open to students from the Dayton, Waitsburg, Touchet and Precott school districts and some local private high schools. The center could also eventually serve Oregon students through the Milton-Freewater School District.

Skills Centers offer supplemental instruction to students looking to pursue technical careers after high school.

"This skills center will provide us more options for students throughout the Walla Walla Valley and help us better coordinate programs with Walla Walla Community College," said WWPS Superintendent Mick Miller in a prepared statement.

The $10.35 million will cover the cost of building the Skills Center over the next school year. In 2011, the Legislature approved $1.169 million for architectural designs of the facility that are almost complete.

The state is covering about 90 percent of the project cost, from preliminary designs to construction. Walla Walla Public Schools provided its 10 percent share through the value of the land it is leasing from the community college.

With designs nearly complete on the 36,000 square-foot facility, construction is expected to start this fall. The center would then open in time for the start of the 2013-14 school year and kick off with about 60 students, according to a district news release. The center is expected to grow to about 160 full-time students in the future. While a majority of students will be drawn from Walla Walla High School and Lincoln High School, slots will be available for students from surrounding districts who have signed on as partners with the district.

Interested students will take classes at the center for a three-period block, or half a day, in the morning or afternoon.

Students will initially be able to take classes in construction trades, welding, renewable resources and health occupation programs, with space at the center for future program growth.

WWPS Technology Director Kirk Jameson and district consultant Sergio Hernandez are taking the lead on organizing the project and coordinating programs.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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