Evergreen schools receive stimulus money for new school

Health, BioScience Academy to partner with medical center




State officials in Olympia have approved Evergreen Public Schools’ request for $17.4 million in federal stimulus-backed construction bonds to build a new magnet high school.

The money should turn a yearslong vision into reality, by September 2013: a 500-student Health and BioScience Academy, to be constructed next to the Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver.

Additional state matching funds would provide the rest of the estimated $23.7 million needed to complete and outfit a four-story, 60,000-square-foot building.

“I’m ecstatic. It’s been a long dream,” said Susan Dixon, Evergreen director of career and technical education.

The academy would focus on advanced science and math, with high-level lab courses geared to specific careers such as microbiology, biotechnology, pharmacy, imaging and nursing services.

“The unique part will be the medical labs,” Dixon said.

Students would partner with the medical center on special projects and apprenticeships, she said. They would have invaluable access to health professionals.

The project has been on Evergreen’s radar screen since 2004, after leaders toured the Northside Health Careers High School that sits on the South Texas Medical Center campus in San Antonio.

They were told that 80 percent of Northside graduates had entered four-year colleges, while most of the rest joined two-year degree programs.

“There isn’t anything like that in the state of Washington,” Dixon said. “There isn’t a stand-alone school that is uniquely focused on college prep for students who are interested in medical careers.”

Evergreen officials visited similar centers in California and Arizona. Since then, it’s been a drawn-out exercise to obtain funding for the magnet program. The federal stimulus, provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, proved a timely catalyst.

Aside from athletics and other extracurricular activities, the school would be a comprehensive campus for students in grades nine through 12. They could pursue those extracurricular activities at their “home” high school.

Dixon said Evergreen hasn’t yet firmed up an application process. But it hopes to attract a wide variety of students — those keenly interested in medical fields, and not just those with elite grades, she said.

The district is closing in on one of three potential sites, each on the northern edge of the medical center campus that sits on East Mill Plain Boulevard.

One parcel lies off Northeast 87th Avenue and another off 90th Avenue, said Reg Martinson, Evergreen facilities director.

The district will use a $1 million grant from the state Community, Trade and Economic Development department, plus previous land sale proceeds, to purchase the property.

Martinson expects design work to take about 18 months before construction starts. He said one floor would likely remain unoccupied until further fundraising pays for additional equipment.

Nearly $4 million in identical, state-authorized stimulus funds — interest-free Qualified School Construction Bonds — previously went to the Battle Ground school district. They will pay for a new sewer hookup and athletic fields at Prairie High School and other district safety improvements.

Camas schools earned QSCB support to shave ongoing construction bond finance charges by $8 million to $10 million. Washougal and Ridgefield districts received $1 million each toward energy and other facility upgrades.

Evergreen has 120 days to sell the QSCB bonds, dating from the state’s decision last Friday, Martinson said.

The award owes in part to other school districts’ inability to advance similar projects after they captured some of the first stimulus money allotted in the autumn, he said. Evergreen expects no such problems, he said.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.