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Giving back - Central Oregonian

February 24, 2013
Crook County High School

The atmosphere was emotionally-charged on Wednesday morning at Meadow Lakes Restaurant as an overflowing crowd squeezed into the banquet room.

Facebook Prineville Data Center Manager Joshua Crass was scheduled to speak at the weekly What’s Brewing?, but had some surprises for the audience.

The Facebook Prineville Data Center recently received some hefty Business Energy Tax Credits as a result of their Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. Crass made an unexpected announcement to the audience that they would be donating the entirety of the credits in a pass-through payment to Crook County High School and the Crook County Foundation.

“We built the world’s most energy-efficient data center, and that comes with benefits,” explained Crass. “This year, we received $182,000 in business energy tax credits. What we are going to do with that $182,000, is we are going to give that right back into the community. We are going to reinvest it here in Prineville.”

The audience broke out in applause as the news sank in, and a packed room soon became quiet, as the details of the donations were announced. Crook County High School will receive $100,000 to support the school’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

“I’m really excited about that,” added Crass. “I will be working with Rocky (Miner), Michelle (Jonas), and Duane (Yecha) to help them wherever they need us to support them.”

The Crook County Foundation will receive $82,000 for support of an economic development study, focusing on increasing revenue through event tourism.

“To better understand how we can leverage the resources here in Prineville to grow economically,” said Crass.

The data center was recognized in November 2011 with a coveted LEED Gold Certification from the United States Green Building Council, which is a green building certification system. LEED certification is a long checklist that helps keep the company’s construction activity in check, and makes sure that it is an environmentally-friendly steward during the construction activity.

In its third year, Facebook Prineville Local Grants Program is the company’s latest community support effort. In January, the company announced the 2013 recipients, and more than $105,000 is awarded each year to local schools and nonprofit organizations.

State Representative Mike McLane commented on the donation, “On behalf of the Prineville community, we want to thank Facebook for investing in STEM education and economic development in Crook County. Prineville is a great place to learn, do business, and visit. New partnerships like these are a great example of the positive difference happening in our communities.”

Ristine Williams, Site Coordinator for Prineville Facebook noted that Facebook is not just in Prineville, but is also part of Prineville.

“We are an invested community member and partner, and we want to continue to help it grow economically,” said Williams. “To that end, we are excited to partner with the Crook County Foundation and help explore strengthening and expanding its economic opportunities, both in the short and long-terms.”

“We want to thank Facebook for believing in Crook County Foundation,” responded Executive Director for the Crook County Foundation Kristi Steber to Crass’ announcement Wednesday.

Shawn Benson, chairperson for the economic development feasibility study committee, commented that Eco Northwest would be conducting the feasibility study. He added that there are several ideas that are being looked at, but the committee is still in the planning stages.

Benson indicated that there are many partners working on the project, including the steering committee, the fairgrounds, the County, City, the Crook County School District, Crook County Parks and Recreation, and Facebook.

“That way, when they (Eco Northwest) are putting this together, they can get some feedback from people who actually live here, work here and have kids here,” he said.

“We appreciate Facebook’s partnership with the Foundation to further our mission to build a vital community,” commented Steber. “Many ideas have been proposed for putting Prineville back to work. Thanks to Facebook, this economic development feasibility study will help us target the best place to focus our attention to create jobs and new opportunities for Crook County.”

Later on Wednesday morning at the CCHS business lab, there was a tangible excitement in the air as staff, students, and media gathered with Facebook staff for an official presentation of the $100,000 donation.

Crook County High School Principal Rocky Miner was joined by Assistant Principal Michelle Jonas, student body leaders Rainey Roberts, Chris Bush, and Facebook staff Williams, Crass, and Communications Manager for Engineering and Infrastructure for Facebook Mike Kirkland. Two CCHS high school seniors, Shad Bennight and Nathaniel Stevenson, served as interns at Facebook during the 2012 summer, and joined school and Facebook officials. Both are pursuing education and training for future careers in technology.

Crass presented the $100,000 check for STEM education, which was announced earlier in the morning.

“We’re hoping these grants will help prepare and inspire Crook County High School students to pursue jobs and careers in the STEM fields,” said Williams. “In the United States, only 33 percent of eighth graders are interested in STEM majors, and only 6 percent of high school seniors will get a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. Increasing the STEM education focus and resources at Crook County High School will help more students pursue technology careers.”

Miner commented that the high school benchmark coordinators and the STEM department chairs have been working closely with Facebook staff to determine the best focus for this surprise revenue.

“We started that communication with what that might look like,” said Miner.” I wanted my benchmark coordinators and my department chairs to be a part of that discussion.”

He indicated that recently, the school has made a goal to try to go paperless, and they would like to have technology that would assist them in that goal, perhaps even getting away from textbooks.

“I wanted Joshua (Crass) and Ristine (Williams) to hear that desire and goal, and the educational reasons that the department chairs have, so that we can start having our visions come together.”

Because they want to utilize the money in the best possible way, Miner said his staff will join Williams and Crass in making tours to some other schools that are on the cutting edge of technology.

“It’s just exciting to be able to have these kinds of discussions, because without that donation, we wouldn’t even be thinking about this or talking about this at this level,” he exclaimed. “We are thrilled and very appreciate of Facebook giving us this donation.”

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