Friday, January 15, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Don’t delay training for jobs of tomorrow

On most school days, there is a flurry of activity around Clark College’s campus in Vancouver’s Central Park, with students from high-school to old age toting their books from class to class.

Yesterday was no different – however, there was a renewed sense of destiny circulating amongst the school’s faculty, staff and community benefactors, gathered for president Robert K. Knight’s state of the college address in a renovated Geiser Hall.

“During the worst of times, we rise to the moment to support our students and our community,” he said, kicking off the next decade for a college that has seen its steady growth accelerate even faster during the past two years of the Great Recession.

In his speech, Knight outlined the school’s plans for expansion into North County, as well as a reinforced push into the fields of science, technology and engineering – areas of study crucial to the future of our region’s workforce.

To fulfill that mission, the college plans a $36 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM building, on the west side of Fort Vancouver Way. “We want it reflect a sense of excitement and innovation. We want it to be a building that engages our students and our region,” Knight said.

Scheduled to break ground in 2011 and to be completed in 2013, Knight acknowledged the timeline might now have to be pushed back due to the state’s current fiscal crisis, which includes a projected deficit of $2.6 billion.

However, this is an essential project for Washington’s economic future – one that cannot be delayed a decade or even a few years.

Along with ongoing construction of the Applied Technology building at Washington State University Vancouver, Clark College’s STEM facility would serve as a much-needed talent incubator to feed the region’s growing tech sector.

There is no doubt that legislators are faced with touch choices, including the prospect of tax increases and painful cuts in services.

But we hope that those legislators, including Vancouver Rep. Tim Probst, who was vaulted this week to an influential vice-chair post on the House Education Appropriations Committee, realizes the importance of a facility like STEM in a county with nagging double-digit employment.

So let’s keep Knight’s timetable and give our community the chance to celebrate the opening of a brand-new STEM building in 2013 – hopefully a year in which an economic recovery is no longer a question, but an unmistakable reality.