By Eric Stevick and Jerry Cornfield, Herald Writers
Everett received a tantalizing glimpse Thursday into how its downtown transit center could be transformed into a University of Washington campus.
In little more than a generation, more than 5,000 college students could be taking classes in five- and six-story buildings and then heading home to their apartments and dorms nearby.
They’d come from throughout the region and from across the state to study science, technology and engineering before going on to careers at Boeing, Microsoft or a Bothell biotech. Other students would become teachers or nurses or run businesses.
This is the picture painted in a report issued Thursday that recommended the state build the proposed four-year university on 32 acres anchored by the Everett Station.
“It has been a long journey, but we have a long ways to go,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said.
State Sen. Jean Berkey, D- Everett, called the recommendation “an important milestone.”
“People have been dreaming about this for 40 years, and we will make that dream a reality,” she said.
A consultant, NBBJ of Seattle, concluded the Everett location is the best of four finalist sites. Property in Marysville off Smokey Point Boulevard is the second-best option, followed by the former Kimberly-Clark property next to the Snohomish River in Everett and in the Cavalero Hill area in Lake Stevens, according to the $1 million state report.
Its detailed analysis is already grist for community debate and will be the subject of legislative hearings in 2008.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who neither endorsed nor rejected the recommendation, said she wants the conversation on a site to continue through the legislative session in hopes communities will then unite behind the final decision.
“This is the closest we’ve ever been and if we can come together we can bring this on home,” the governor said.
If unity looks doubtful, she said she’ll take steps “to make it happen” either by choosing a site herself or by bringing parties together to reach agreement.
During the coming legislative session, “I don’t want us to lose this opportunity because we’re all fighting for a particular site,” she said. “Having a university is the goal. I fundamentally want this to happen.”
A separate report released Thursday by a team of UW academics said the school will emphasize engineering and computer science “with a strong arts and sciences core to support these programs.” Other high-demand fields would be business, education and nursing.
UW President Mark Emmert said a university in Snohomish County will help the entire state meet a need to produce more graduates with bachelor’s degrees. A campus emphasizing science, engineering and technology that works to get students in the workplace while in school could fill an important niche, he said.
“It would be something that’s distinct and not competitive with other institutions,” Emmert said.
Competition for the campus has been intense and likely will remain so.
Wherever it goes, the prize is a school affiliated with the state’s largest university, a campus that generates high-wage jobs and one that will spend at least $645 million in building costs alone.
That competition won’t end with the consultant’s recommendation.
Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall said he’s disappointed the consultant settled on the smallest of the four sites.
“When someone says they want to build something out and want it to be here for 100 years, I’m a little bit concerned they can do it on 32 acres,” he said.
Kendall is planning to lobby for Marysville’s 369-acre site throughout the session.
“We can sell ourselves on what we have to offer and hopefully the Legislature will see it our way,” he said.
State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said even though his hometown location ranked lowest in the study, he’s not retreating from pushing for it.
“It’s still a perfectly good site. It’s still on the list. It did say in there that this is one of the least costly sites to develop” he said.
Hobbs said as important as the site is the issue of how to pay for construction of buildings and the enrollment of students.
“Regardless of where it is in Marysville, Everett or Lake Stevens, we’ve got to come up with the money,” he said. “The real battle will be funding.”
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, has her own worry about the Everett site. In a word: parking.
“We’d have to go building parking garages right away and that’s something the Legislature doesn’t like to do,” she said.
Small campuses have worked for other universities with similar enrollment sizes to what is projected for the Snohomish County campus, according to the NBBJ report. Seattle Pacific University and Portland State University are among 14 campuses ranging from 10 to 55 acres that serve 5,300 to 24,000 students.
Former UW President Lee Hunstman, who has led the academic planning for the Snohomish County campus, said the new campus would be different than other UW branch campuses.
“We tried to look at this academic vision as a centerpiece of not only what is needed in the three-county region, but meets the need of the state,” Huntsman said.
Students from the new campus would get work experience in the community while in school, and faculty research would revolve around common points of interest with local businesses and organizations.
Everett’s business community applauded the decision Thursday at an annual economic forecast luncheon and were urged by Everett Area Chamber of Commerce President Louise Stanton-Masten to make their feelings known to political leaders.
“Now is the time for all of us in the business community to express our enthusiasm to the governor’s office,” she said. “The governor needs to know that we are ready to roll up our sleeves and show support for our community as we did for Naval Station Everett.”
Crystal Donner, vice president of Perteet Engineering in Everett, said her company has a vested interest in getting a new campus built: There is a need for more engineers.
“I think Everett is the logical place. But … this is step one,” Donner said.
“It’s great for Everett because we need to class it up a little bit,” said Leah Copley, 21, an Everett Community College student and a barista at Espresso Americano inside Everett Station.
Copley, who lives in Marysville, said attending a branch campus in Everett would be more convenient than going to school at Western Washington University in Bellingham or fighting traffic to get to the UW campuses in Seattle or Bothell.
Thomas Ronken, 65, with WorkSource, a job resource organization inside Everett Station, agreed.
Standing on the train platform, he pointed to major routes into the city. “There’s Highway 2, there’s I-5, the train is right here. It makes sense,” he said.
Strolling through a downtown Everett used bookstore with her brother and sister Thursday afternoon, Rachel Mattern, 29, of Whidbey Island said a branch campus would have been an attractive option for her to attend university close to home. While her siblings both attended the UW, Mattern did not, in part because of the hassle of commuting to class.
“Even getting into the University District is a problem,” she said. “A commute from the island to Everett would be easy.”
Herald reporters David Chircop and Mike Benbow contributed to this story.
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail email@example.com.