Capital bill aids building projects

County welcomes a share of $3.6 billion in state construction

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Money to rebuild Vancouver's Crestline Elementary School, to build an airplane hangar and a cosmetology building at the Clark County Skills Center, and to start a community garden in West Vancouver are just some local projects in the state's new two-year, $3.6 billion capital budget.

The bill passed the Legislature over the weekend and was signed Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

It directs the state's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to fast-track any eligible money from its construction assistance program to rebuild Crestline. The school burned down in February, after the deadline to request state assistance. Evergreen Public Schools would have had to wait an extra year to get state money if the provision to expedite funds didn't pass.

Now, "we don't have to try to find some sort of loan to carry us through," Evergreen's chief operating manager, Mike Merlino, said Monday, calling the budget "good news" for Crestline. "The belief is, we will have enough to rebuild the school as we intend to rebuild it."

The exact amount that Crestline will receive was not specified in the budget, and school officials are still determining how much the new school will cost. Merlino estimated the district will need at least $5 million in state assistance. The rest of the rebuilding costs are covered by insurance.

Until the school opens in 2014, Crestline students will meet in rented space at the old Hewlett-Packard campus on Southeast 34th Street.

Other education projects

The budget provides the Clark County Skills Center with $1.7 million to construct two new buildings on its campus. One would serve as a cosmetology school, as well as providing larger classrooms to accommodate the school's growth. The other will be an airplane hangar to serve the school's new aviation program.

The skills center provides technical and professional training to prepare high school students for the workforce. Among its programs are construction technology, dental assisting, fire science and restaurant management. The school also has a dental clinic and a restaurant. This year's enrollment was 1,000. Fall enrollment is expected to grow by 100 students, and some programs have a waiting list.

"We are thrilled," the skills center's director, Kari Duffy, said Monday.

The new aviation program will teach core classes to benefit students who are interested in various aviation careers, including flying the aircraft, directing air traffic, and engineering or building the plane, Duffy said.

Construction on the buildings is expected to begin in late summer or early fall.

The capital budget passed Saturday also includes $500,000 for campus preservation at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver and $1 million for building maintenance at the Washington School for the Deaf, also in Vancouver.

More than $33.7 million in the capital budget was set aside for a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building at Clark College. Construction is expected to begin on that building next year.

Safety nets

The capital budget approves $1.2 million for a new Children's Center building in Vancouver east of Interstate 205. The Children's Center is a state-licensed community mental health agency, and it has provided mental health services for children, youth and families for more than 20 years.

Lately, however, the facility has been operating beyond capacity, its director, Pat Beckett, said this year. More than 90 percent of the families served by the agency live in low-income households, and at any given time, the center serves roughly 600 children.

Beckett praised legislators from the 17th District -- Republican Sen. Don Benton and Reps. Paul Harris, a Republican, and Monica Stonier, a Democrat -- for their advocacy for the new building during the 2013 legislative session.

Additionally, more than $1 million in the budget would help buy a warehouse for the west Vancouver food pantry FISH, which operates as a distributor for the Clark County Food Bank, said state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. The warehouse site, in the Fruit Valley area, has enough space to build a community garden, Moeller said.

The warehouse will "greatly expand their ability to store perishable (food)," Moeller said. "It's a great piece of property."

The budget also doles out more than $3 million to affordable housing efforts in Vancouver, and $800,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Washington.

Preserving history

About $1 million in the budget was granted to the Fort Vancouver National Trust. It will be split between an effort to preserve the Academy building and grounds at 400 E. Evergreen Blvd. and a project that converts the Infantry Barracks building on the Fort Vancouver National Site into apartments.

The Academy building was the 1873 home of Pacific Northwest pioneer Mother Joseph and the Sisters of Providence. The 7-acre property it sits on has been owned since 1969 by brothers Monte, Bill and Oliver Hidden, descendants of the Vancouver family that supplied the bricks for the Colonial-style structure, said to be one of the state's most historically significant.

Nearby, the former Infantry Barracks needs rehabilitation, according to the trust; it was built in 1887 and is the oldest structure in the West Barracks area of the Fort Vancouver National Site.

Converting the barracks into single-bedroom and studio apartments will add variety to the site's housing options. There are already two single-family rental homes in the West Barracks and 36 townhouses on Officers Row.

Beyond those two projects, the capital budget assigns $283,000 to the Washington State Heritage Capital Projects Fund, which would preserve the historic Post Hospital in the West Barracks. That building was constructed in 1904 and 1905.

30,000 jobs

Legislators who wrote the capital budget estimated that it will help create at least 30,000 jobs statewide. The capital budget was passed unanimously in the Senate and picked up only four "no" votes in the House.

The purpose of the capital budget is to put money toward purchasing, constructing or improving buildings for projects that benefit the public. The $3.6 billion capital budget is separate from the $33.6 billion operating budget lawmakers passed Friday.


Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu; http://twitter.com/col_politics; stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.