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Skills center on track for S'side in 2007-08

Progress continues on a skills center proposed for the Lower Valley.

That was the message to Port of Sunnyside commissioners last night by Sunnyside School Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole.

The port has committed to providing eight acres from its East Edison Avenue property as the skills center site and invited Cole to provide an update on the effort.

Cole said the proposal calls for a $2.1 million, 8,000 square-foot skills center, which has received recommendations for state funding from the state school superintendent's office, as well as by state vocational skills directors.

A total of 10 school districts from around the area have also provided letters indicating interest in sending students to the skills center in Sunnyside.

The next step, Cole said, is receiving final funding approval from the state legislature when it convenes early next year.

Cole told commissioners that the skills center here, in conjunction with a plan to expand the skills center in the Yakima School District, will be included in a capital improvement proposal to the legislature.

"My estimation is the economy looks good for approval (of skills center funding)," he said.

The skills center would be a Sunnyside satellite of the Yakima skills center and would be overseen by the Yakima School District.

"There are 11 skills centers in the state and they are usually managed by the larger district in each area," Cole said this morning in a follow-up interview.

The Sunnyside School District's role in the skills center, he said, is to "send kids, participate, and be part of the overall advisory group."

Cole said the skills center here would be designed for all the schools in the area, especially Lower Valley, to participate in.

"We believe more students from the Lower Valley will attend the skills center if it's housed in the Lower Valley," he said.

At the same time, Cole said efforts will be made to ensure that the Yakima and Sunnyside skills centers do not duplicate programs.

Yakima, for example, is focusing on culinary arts, among other programs. Sunnyside's proposed skills center would focus on offering training in the health industry for employment in hospitals and clinics.

Discussions are also underway to determine other training programs the Sunnyside center would offer.

Cole said construction could begin in May 2007 and the skills center could open its doors in time for the 2008-09 school year, if the state legislature approves the proposal.

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