Montesano Mayor Vini Samuel is launching her next ambitious project to boost her city’s profile and economy. It includes a pricey upgrade to the Montesano fire hall.
The city announced this month that it is working with Grays Harbor College to house an Associate in Technical Arts program in Public Safety at the city’s fire hall.
“Right now, the city and the college are full-speed ahead,” Samuel said. “Our other ideal partners would be E-911 and the local school district, and ideally the county school districts. They have all expressed interest in the vision.”
The mayor’s vision includes a $14 million expansion and improvements to the Montesano fire hall on Pioneer Avenue. The building would be expanded and seismically retrofitted to be more structurally sound. She says the seismic upgrades are needed regardless of the public safety education program’s success. Ideally, the mayor says, the rebuilt building would house the Montesano Police and Fire departments, the class rooms, and Grays Harbor Communications Center’s E-911 operations.
Samuel is planning on getting a majority of the funding for the construction from state and federal funding, legislative appropriations and grants, including a new program called Career Connect.
“It would go up, probably, in floors. It really would not be that much bigger for Police and Fire because both would use the same garages. Dispatch and the college would be the most significant space to add,” Samuel said. “Dispatch would get a floor; education would get a floor; and law enforcement and fire would have the bottom floor.”
The building currently has two floors.
She has estimated that 10% to 20% of the funds for the construction would go toward technology upgrades to be used by the college and E-911.
The educational element would be run by Grays Harbor College. Currently, Montesano High School runs a fire cadet program out of the building. It is taught by Chief Corey Rux and other paid and volunteer fire staff. That program would be taken over by the college and be offered for credit toward an Associate in Technical Arts degree in public safety. It also would be used as a template for adding similar programs in police, corrections, dispatch and emergency medical services studies.
The college is developing curricula for the programs to offer as dual credit for 12th-graders, Samuel said. Grays Harbor News Group reached out multiple times to Grays Harbor College President Jim Minkler but was unable to get a comment.
Future programs could be associated with other high schools in the county and beyond, for instance, the corrections program could be in Aberdeen. It could be a part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Career Connect educational and vocational programs.
Career Connect is a collection of “business, labor, education, and community leaders who are creating work-based and academic programs for young people to explore, learn, and earn money or college level credit,” according to its website. In May 2017, Inslee “launched the Career Connected Learning initiative at STEM summit, with the goal of connecting 100,000 Washington youth during the next five years with career-connected learning opportunities that prepare them for high-demand, high wage jobs.”
House Bill 2158, passed this year by the Legislature and signed by the governor, funds Career Connect, which offers education grants that Samuel says could be used in development of the Montesano project and rebuilt fire station.
Samuel also said the ATA program could be expanded across the Olympic Peninsula using virtual classroom technology. A student in Sequim might take most of her classes from home and journey to Grays Harbor once a week or less. Samuel said the public service ATA degree program would be unique in a seven-county region: Grays Harbor, Pacific, Mason, Thurston, Clallam, Jefferson and Lewis.
At its meeting this month, the Grays Harbor Communications Board of Directors agreed to back the program with a letter expressing its support.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the (E-911) center. The training program is really exciting,” Executive Director Brenda Cantu told the board at its Dec. 12 meeting, stressing the center has had difficulty recruiting qualified dispatchers.
The board voted unanimously to have Cantu prepare a letter of support for the plan.
Adding E-911 and its dispatch operations, which is located in Aberdeen, would open doors to federal funding for the program and rebuild of the fire hall. Career Connect offers funds which could be used to
“We’re looking at mid-2020 for all of the details to be worked out. The funding application is the biggest headache (because of the multiple entities involved),” Samuel said.
She expects to seek funding from the Legislature and faces a Jan. 15 deadline for legislative funds to rebuild the fire hall.
Next year “will be the year of gathering of funds, gathering our partnerships, the finessing of the details,” Samuel said.