Skills center may be near construction

Designed to serve area high school students, the center could be open in 2013.

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WALLA WALLA -- The Walla Walla School District is one step closer to building a regional skills center to serve local high school students and those in surrounding districts.

The district has been working toward establishing a local skills center the last few years, with much success. It has secured money from the state in phases, first for the pre-design, and then the architectural design of the project. The district plans to build the skills center at Walla Walla Community College. The college has been leasing the space to the district for a nominal fee.

The Walla Walla skills center would serve as a branch of the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick. State lawmakers have encouraged the creation of such centers, which provide interested high school students skills in practical and emerging technical or vocational fields.

"We call them job-ready skills," said district Communications Director Mark Higgins.

Districts that seek to establish skills centers in Washington state qualify to have the majority of the project costs overed by the state. Districts are responsible for a share, about 10 percent, which is often met through securing the land where a center will be built.

Superintendent Mick Miller said the state has reserved about $11 million in its capital projects fund to build the skills center in Walla Walla. Miller, who spoke to the School Board during a public work session Tuesday, said the money could go to the district by this summer, with construction starting in the fall. The skills center would then be slated to open in 2013.

The design phase of the project is nearly done, outlining the construction plans for what would be a 36,000-square-feet facility on the WWCC campus. Initial programming will include construction trades, welding, renewable resources and health programs.

As a regional service, the center would be open to students from Waitsburg, Dayton, Touchet, and Prescott school districts, from private high school, and possibly the Milton-Freewater School District in Oregon, in addition to students in Walla Walla.

The center would serve about 60 full-time students initially, with a majority coming from Walla Walla and Lincoln high schools, with room to serve about 160 full-time students once established. Classes would run on a three-period block, in the morning or afternoon, and Wa-Hi would continue to offer Career and Technical Education courses.

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

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