New branch campus in Snohomish County doesn’t appear in UW’s plans

A four-year college in Snohomish County isn’t dead because the University of Washington makes no mention of it in a plan released this week, backers said Friday.

It remains on life support, as it has for months, and won’t come off until state lawmakers settle their differences on whether to build in Everett or Marysville.

“No, their plan won’t hurt us. It does mean we have to work that much harder to get this site decision done,” said state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, a stubborn supporter of Marysville.

She and Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said the UW can’t build the dorms and double enrollment at its Bothell and Tacoma campuses as it wishes without funding from the Legislature.

That gives lawmakers leverage to ensure that the UW prepares for and operates a new Snohomish County campus once the location dispute is settled.

“The university has a long way to go. Budget drives policy in the end,” said Sells, who backed putting it in Everett this last legislative session.

And if the UW is tiring of the process, “the area may have to look for other partners” in its effort, Sells said.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon interpreted the omission of the Snohomish County campus as another sign the community may lose out on the college it has earnestly pursued in the last three years.

“I’m not as confident as I once was. I don’t think Everett is on the radar,” he said.

Reardon called the branch campus proposal “a bungled mess.”

“As soon as they made this a branch campus the momentum really slowed down and complications started to occur and now we find this delay on the site has really jeopardized Snohomish County’s opportunity,” he said.

This stalemate could find its way into the minds of voters this fall.

“It is huge. People talk about it wherever I go,” Haugen said.

Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire backed the branch campus proposal and pledged to fund classes this fall at a temporary site if the Legislature chose a permanent location. She repeatedly rejected calls to intercede and pick the site.

A spokeswoman for Republican challenger Dino Rossi said Friday he supports a campus in Snohomish County but has not decided where he’d like to see it built.

He finds the UW plan “troubling and he believes there’s a chance of there not being a campus in Snohomish County,” spokeswoman Jill Strait said.

A top UW official said Friday the university is not turning its back on the community.

“We really didn’t think we could develop long-term enrollment plans for campuses that don’t yet exist,” UW state relations director Randy Hodgins said in an e-mail response to questions.

“If the Legislature decides as early as next session to establish a third UW branch campus in Snohomish County, then we can begin to properly plan.”

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and government affairs director Pat McClain met with UW President Mark Emmert on June 25 and heard the same message.

“He indicated if we can get the site issue clarified and settled, it’s an area he wants to serve,” McClain said.

McClain, like others reached Friday, said the university’s desire to aggressively expand enrollment in the next 10 years validates the need for more slots in higher education.

UW’s Bothell campus would add 2,250 students, most of them freshmen, and would construct dormitories under the proposal reviewed by Board of Regents on Thursday. The state Higher Education Coordination Board will receive it Monday.

And Snohomish County campus backers were not daunted by UW-Bothell’s push to establish a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program — an idea envisioned to become the instructional core of Snohomish County’s proposed college.

“What they’ll be doing in Bothell and Tacoma won’t meet the needs of Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties,” said Mary Swenson, chief administrative officer of Marysville. “So that’s not going to stop us.”

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

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