Supporters hope to start construction of center, seek to close $750,000 funding gap
SANTA ROSA — A 4-year-old nationally recognized Piner High School program that gives students reality-based training in the science, technology and mathematics behind the latest gadgets that help drivers find destinations via their smartphones, surveyors map more precisely and efficiently and help crews grade roads more cost-effectively,wants to do its own major upgrade this summer.
The school’s Geospatial Technology Pathway program has garnered nationwide exposure from construction trade periodicals such as American Surveyor Magazine for bringing global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) technology and local professional know-how to training high school students. Those students can benefit from a fast-growing range of job possibilities involving science, high technology, engineering and math, or STEM, according to Kurt Kruger, coordinator and one of the program’s two instructors.
“In this economy, those fields do have jobs, and companies are dying to have kids in STEM fields,” he said.
Backed by $250,000 in state Specialized Secondary Program grant funds, the Piner program acquired computers, equipment and software, trained the instructors, converted an outdated computer-aided design classroom to a GIS lab and allocated up to $40,000 a year for new technology and updating the three-year curriculum. The coursework and practical applications were developed with local surveying companies Ray Carlson & Associates, Cinquini & Passarino Land Surveying and Hogan Land Services, environmental engineers at Environ Corp., Santa Rosa Junior College’s Civil Engineering and Surveying Technology Department and its Robert Ferguson Observatory, Sonoma State University’s Physics and Astronomy program, the city of Santa Rosa and county of Sonoma.
The first seven students to go through the Piner program graduated last year. Under a unique articulation agreement, students who complete all three years of the program and pass a college-level exam can receive GIS course credit in the state’s community college and university systems. This year, 50 entered the first year of the program, bringing the total number of students to 80.
Students in the program can seek internships, such as working on the county’s Fire Book, city utility mapping and mapping Pepperwood Preserve. Cinquini & Passarino has taken on an intern for the past two years, including tasks this year in using lasers to scan for as-built and construction drawings, combining data sets in GIS software and conducing age-old work such as topographical and boundary surveys.
“It’s our duty to continue the profession and encourage those who want to continue on in this field,” said Tony Cinquini, principal, chief financial officer and a Piner grad from a time when CAD was first entering the classroom.
“We recruit from the junior college a lot, and we see high school as an integral first step to continue on into the SRJC program,” he continued.
Program student Vanessa Duenas said the ability to interact with high-end technology in the field makes the coursework interesting.
“I feel like I am learning skills that I will be able to apply to college or career and that motivates me to learn as much as I can,” she said.
To take Piner’s Geospatial Technology Pathway to the next level, program organizers are set to seek Santa Rosa City Schools board authorization on April 25 to start construction on a Geospatial Science Center nestled between the campus buildings. Designed by Quattrocchi Kwok Architects of Santa Rosa, the center would have space for data-collection from a number of instruments such as seismographs, weather sensors and sky cameras, a new GIS computer lab, solar and wind energy systems for studies, scale walk-through model of the solar system, theater for student presentations of their research and talks by local professionals, astronomical observatory and a 26-foot-diameter domed planetarium.
Now, the challenge is to pay for the project. The project received a $1.7 million state Proposition 1D Career Technical Education School Facilities Program grant, based on the state’s 50 percent match standard for the $3.4 million estimated cost when the grant application was submitted, according to Nancy Miller, director of the district’s roughly two dozen career pathway programs in seven industry sectors.
Sunnyvale-based Trimble Corp., maker of high-tech position-finding and measurement tools and software used in construction and other industries, is set to donate $50,000 to the project this month, she said. The company early in the program donated a GPS surveying system. Based on the most recent project cost estimate of about $2.5 million, that leaves about $750,000 yet to materialize.
District administrators are looking a several sources of funding such as savings from the recently awarded Elsie Allen High School agriculture mechanics facility modernization and unallocated money from capital improvement funds for developer fees, certificates of participation and secondary bonds, according to the district business services office.
The winning bid for the Elsie Allen project came in nearly $700,000 under that project’s grant estimate, so the district is able to re-allocate $347,000 to other projects under grant rules, according to a board report.
Those alternate funding sources aren’t enough to cover the current estimated shortfall for the Geospatial Science Center, according to the district.
“We hope the bid comes in lower, because the last two projects came in under the original engineering estimates,” Ms. Miller said.
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