Eight sites in county in running for college

  • By Jerry Cornfield and Eric Stevick / Herald Writers
  • Friday, March 9, 2007 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

OLYMPIA – A confidential report prepared for lawmakers evaluates eight possible sites around Snohomish County where the state could build its first independent four-year university in 40 years.

The 100-page study reviewed by The Herald examines four locations near Stanwood, one on Everett’s riverfront and one each near Snohomish, Lake Stevens and the border between Snohomish and Skagit counties.

“All of the sites will provide a blank slate to design a campus that can merge the unique outdoor atmosphere of Northwest Washington state with the needed intellectual environment” for a college to serve residents of Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties, the report states.

State Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, requested the analysis from Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. The report took two months for county staff to complete.

In late February, copies went to Berkey and Sens. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island; Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens; and Paull Shin, D-Edmonds. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s higher education adviser received one as well.

The four legislators and Reardon advocate building a four-year college.

“I asked to see what the county has in terms of potential areas,” Berkey said. “I asked for the report because up until now the sites offered were strictly in Everett.”

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, who is pushing hard to secure a college in town, has been touting three possible sites: the city public works yard on Cedar Street, land near Everett Community College and a 75-acre site the city owns along the Snohomish River north of the U.S. 2 trestle.

The county report considered the prospects of a fourth – a 123-acre block of land along the river near Deadwood Slough, roughly one mile from Everett Station.

Not included in the latest study are three potential sites on the Tulalip Indian Reservation suggested last year by tribal leaders. Two are within Quil Ceda Village, a 2,000-acre commercial center and home to the Seattle Premium Outlets and the Tulalip Casino.

“I’m not wed to any one site,” Hobbs said. “I want to be sure we have the whole county covered when talking about potential locations, and (are) not just focused on one city.”

The campaign for a new university intrigues Pedro Gonzales, a father of three students ages 6 to 13 in the Arlington School District who attended a town hall meeting on the subject last year.

He likes the thought of a four-year university near Stanwood because it would be spaced well between Western Washington University in Bellingham, a sprinkling of community colleges and the University of Washington’s Bothell campus.

However, to Gonzales, location isn’t the big issue.

“If it’s in Everett, Lake Stevens, wherever, this area needs it,” Gonzales said. “It’s crying out for it. Let the chips fall where they may.”

The county report evaluated eight sites ranging in size from the 123 acres in Everett to 1,012 acres east of Warm Beach within the McNaughton Group’s proposed development plan.

Other blocks of land reviewed were:

* 592 acres west of I-5 between exits 215 and 218;

* 422 acres west of I-5 near exit 215;

* 437 acres a mile and a half north of Stanwood, five miles from I-5;

* 402 acres one mile west of Stanwood;

* 340 acres two miles north of Lake Stevens and south of Lake Cassidy;

* 367 acres bordering Snohomish on the northwest corner of U.S. 2 and Highway 9.

Each prospective site is described by geographic region and analyzed with maps, aerial photos and data on land costs, zoning and environmental constraints.

Photo renderings show buildings and an athletic field laid out on six of the locations.

All eight are privately owned land whose owners would need to be compensated. Owners of most of the properties were not contacted about their willingness to sell.

Everett officials caution that any siting discussions are preliminary, since no decision has been made whether to build a university or what kind should be built.

Those decisions are expected this year.

A $500,000 regional study done in 2006 for the state Higher Education Coordinating Board concluded residents of Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties need additional college options.

Gregoire wants to spend $2 million to determine by Dec. 1 what type of institution is needed and where it should go.

Snohomish and Island county legislators are divided on what they want in a university.

The four senators want a four-year university with a focus on science and technology similar to California’s polytechnic state universities in Pomona and San Luis Obispo. They are seeking $4 million in the budget to get the effort going.

Stephanson is working with Reps. Mike Sells, D-Everett, and Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, to launch a branch campus of the University of Washington.

Branch campuses, such as UW-Bothell, are geared for community college transfer students and are affiliated with an existing institution.

Constructing a new independent four-year university or a branch campus would cost about $285 million, according to the state study.

It estimated 300 acres would be needed for building a four-year public university capable of serving 8,000 students by 2025. The cost, based on the acreage and timeline, is projected at $25 million.

The state analysis did consider suitable areas for a college. Their conclusions differed from the county report because the two studies relied on different criteria.

The state study said the Everett and Marysville areas scored “much higher” than Arlington and Stanwood.

Its criteria included the percentage of residents within a 30-minute peak-hour commute; average miles per trip within the half-hour commute; access to utilities, services and mass transit; environmental conditions; and housing supply.

The county analysis considered a property’s accessibility by cars and transit; availability of buying and assembling parcels; projected costs of buying land; environmental constraints such as wetlands; zoning; and compliance with the Growth Management Act.

“The criteria used by the consultants were too narrow,” said Reardon, the Snohomish County executive. “It did not contain the most up-to-date information.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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