A home for ORCA

EVERETT — A marine research academy for high school students is moving where it’s always wanted to be — on the waterfront.

Everett Community College’s Ocean Research College Academy has agreed to lease 5,723 square feet at the Port of Everett’s new Waterfront Center, paying $139,698 a year in rent.

“We’re marrying a great program with a great program space,” said Pat Sisneros, vice president of college services for EvCC. He noted that the program, in its eighth year, has been operating “with one arm tied behind its back.”

He was referring to the fact that it operates out of the college’s Corporate and Community Education Center in south Everett, which is used mostly for business training.

The two-year program, which uses the Running Start model, has about 40 new students each year who work to finish high school and earn a college associate degree simultaneously.

The students study together and take classes that build and focus on the local marine environment as a unifying theme.

“Having proximity to the water is huge,” Director Ardi Kveven said of the move, which will take place in time for the winter quarter in January.

She said the academy, established with a grant from the Gates Foundation, is able to make the move with additional money from the National Science Foundation.

Students don’t pay college tuition, but they do pay for books, lab fees and some transportation costs.

The program, which does monthly tests in Possession Sound of water quality and sediments and surveys birds and mammals, will benefit a great deal from a waterfront location, said Al Friedman, dean of math and science for the college.

He said students now need to arrange transportation for many of the things they do.

“For a lot of things — tidal and dock work — they can just walk out the door,” he said. “Before it would take them hours to do that.”

Much of the research the students do involves chartering the Hatt Island ferry, which regularly visits the boat launching area near their new home.

“They’ll be able to just walk right over there,” Friedman said. “They are high school kids and a lot of them don’t have cars or a driver’s license. Before it was so very difficult.”

Kveven said she hopes to incorporate nearby Jetty Island in the program’s class work. And she’s excited about plans to install a 120-gallon saltwater aquarium in the new facility.

The program doesn’t have an aquarium now, and this one will have six compartments “to keep critters from eating each other,” Kveven said.

She said the program has been very successful and that 95 percent of its students go on to a four-year university.

The new digs should add to that success and make it easier to recruit students.

“I’m really hoping it will help to make the program more attractive and give it more visibility,” Friedman said.

He said the deal should be a win-win-win for the port, which will get a tenant for a new building, the college, which needs more space in its continuing education center for business training, and the program, which needed a more appropriate location.

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