Fundraising efforts for Columbia Basin College’s culinary school have been put on hold, but that doesn’t mean plans for a facility in Kennewick’s new riverside wine village aren’t moving forward.
“The original plan was to start with fundraising, build the building, and while that was going on, build the program and get the approvals,” said CBC President Rebekah Woods. “And the reason is, once you get approval from the state board, within a year you have to enroll students. So that’s why the thought was to get the fundraising first so we have a facility to start this in.”
But Pasco-based CBC has decided to change its plans after receiving feedback from 88 people, including restaurant owners, chefs, wine industry professionals and community leaders.
“They had some concerns, and they were valid concerns. If you look at culinary colleges across the country, they’re struggling with enrollments,” Woods said.
In late 2015, Le Cordon Bleu announced it would close all 16 of its culinary schools in the United States. The school famous for teaching Julia Child in Paris is a private institution and more expensive than a community college program.
The culinary field’s other challenge is attracting workers who are more interested in careers offering a better work-life balance.
“The culinary field when you get into it, it’s long hours. It’s evenings. It’s weekends. It’s not a clean 9-to-5 walk away kind of job. And the newer generations, they’re very focused on work-life balance and having time with their families, having time to be involved in their communities—and they should. We all want this. But you see it more so in the newer generations. And a lot of the jobs, especially if you’re going into a line cook position, those are lower paying jobs as well,” Woods said.
Tri-City area hospitality officials told CBC that instead of hiring students trained at culinary schools, they were finding folks with a passion for food and training workers themselves, Woods said.
CBC first announced plans to build a $10 million to $13 million culinary center in November 2016 with the support of the Port of Kennewick and city. The culinary school would join the Columbia Gardens Wine and Artisan Village development in downtown Kennewick, with plans calling for a 20,000-square-foot, two-story building that would give students experience in preparing meals and the community an opportunity to enjoy a real-world dining experience.
CBC has a reputation of successful programs, and Woods said it wants to make sure the culinary facility falls into that category.
The college would need to get approval from the state board to offer a new program and to do that, Woods said the program needs to show there’s a demand and jobs available for graduates.
“At a minimum, we have to show a career pathway. Maybe entry level would be lower paying, but we need to show there’s a pathway available for them,” Woods said. “We also have to show — if there’s a similar program in a community near you, and Walla Walla has a culinary program — you have to show how you can work together and complement each other. There’s going to be competition — that’s unavoidable.”
A subset of the 88 hospitality industry leaders met Oct. 13 to talk about what CBC’s specific program needs would look like.
Woods said the school is committed to getting down the path that leads to opening a culinary center, and the next step is to hire a consultant or director to help build a curriculum. Woods said one idea is to do a soft launch to show proof of concept, although that plan is not set in stone.
“We want to get the program started. We need to find partners and start building momentum for enrollment and getting people excited about it,” she said. “And hopefully down the road there would be the fundraising capacity to build the facility if we go that route.”
Woods said the design idea for the culinary center was based on information gathered from a team that visited several culinary programs, including the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute, which is part of the Southwestern Oregon Community College. The Oregon program influenced CBC’s plans for its culinary center.
“It was one of the schools included in the CBC benchmarking visits a couple of years back,” Woods said. “Their enrollment is growing and their graduates have great success.”
The next visionary meeting for the culinary program has not been set, but Woods said the school would like to have some internal talent in place to help build a curriculum and move forward.
“Our program would pursue (American Culinary Federation) accreditation. Therefore, the qualifications of the faculty and program director would follow that which is required by the ACF in order to receive accreditation,” Woods said.
People interested in getting involved can contact Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-542-4801.
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