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Excess funds could mean early start for projects

A new building at North Central High School would consolidate the science classrooms and add six science labs.
A new building at North Central High School would consolidate the science classrooms and add six science labs.

Low construction costs in recent years have left Spokane Public Schools with $47.9 million in undesignated bond funds and a hope to start early on two projects planned for 2015.

Administrators want to spend $16 million at North Central High School to add classrooms and build up the district’s newly created Institute of Science and Technology, and another $5.4 million at Mullan Road Elementary School to replace 10 classrooms and update the facility.

“NC was going to be part of the 2015 and 2021 bond,” said Mark Anderson, assistant superintendent. “We were going to do work in phases to get it up to the same standards as the other high schools we are finishing. But this way, we can do some of the major stuff early and at a better price.”

The Spokane Public Schools board will vote this afternoon on the use of the undesignated funds for the two proposed projects. A portion of the unexpected surplus would be held in reserve as a precaution.

The $5.4 million in improvements to Mullan Road Elementary will replace an annex building and a 1977 addition, which was a portion of another old school originally built in 1956, Anderson said. “This will consolidate students and staff into one building and create a more usable and up-to-date facility.”

Board President Bob Douthitt said the 30,000-square-foot addition to North Central would address two main goals.

Adding classrooms will end the need for the annex, which is around the corner from the school’s main building. “That increases instructional time, and kids won’t have to go out in the cold to get to a class – that can be dangerous,” Douthitt said.

The second goal: “Build an adequate space for our Institute of Science and Technology,” an advanced science program that began last year at the high school and which focuses on biomedical technology, biomedical solutions and genomic research.

A new, three-story building would consolidate all the science classrooms to one area and add six science labs. Additionally, the third floor would be designated to the institute. It will include a suite of labs: two main labs, a sterile room, a prep room and a climate-controlled room.

Students who have participated in the program during the last two years have embarked on numerous scientific research projects usually only done by professionals. Examples include using DNA to find out when bison first roamed the Northern Plains and identifying diseases carried by bees by examining the contents of their stomachs. This year students are beginning research on an endangered fish.

The addition to the school has been a longtime dream for science teacher Randy James. “It’s my passion. It’s going to be pretty amazing. I can’t believe the district is doing it.”

In just one year the program has grown from 87 to 125 students.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Steve Fisk, NC vice principal and a champion for the institute. “It’s going to make such a difference.”

He added, “It’s really recognition of the need for an advanced science program. It’s going to be great for kids for a long time.”