EVERETT — A ribbon will be cut, speeches delivered, tours given and a time capsule buried Tuesday when Washington State University formally opens the doors to the first building of its newest campus.
With its four stories and 95,000 square feet of space, the structure cements the presence of a four-year research university in the city as civic, corporate and political leaders have sought for half a century.
“It’s a beautiful thing. It really is driving the flag into the ground,” said Hans Dunshee, of Snohomish, who as a state lawmaker played a pivotal role in securing state dollars for the building and ensuring WSU ended up in Everett.
The building gives greater identity to the campus, which in turn will spur interest from more potential students, he said. And Dunshee is confident it also will spark new economic development in the surrounding area, fomenting a longer-term revitalization of that part of town.
“It’s the difference between having a program and having something people can drive by and say that’s WSU. That’s really significant,” he said. “It really is the start of something grand.”
Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, labored in the legislative trenches alongside Dunshee to land WSU and finance the building.
“It was a bit of a road getting there. Running the gauntlet of the Legislature was not an easy task,” he said. “I’m thrilled we got it done.”
David Beyer, president of Everett Community College, where WSU has offered classes since 2012, said it will be a beacon for positive change.
“When I look at it, I say ‘Yay for Snohomish County and the region,’ ” he said. “There is more to come that is really going to be quite important and beneficial for this community.”
How much more should one expect?
Supporters hope it will be a lot, though certainly not right away considering how long it’s taken to reach this moment.
Arlington lost out to Olympia in 1967 to become home of The Evergreen State College. Two decades later, Bothell beat out Everett for a branch campus of the University of Washington.
In 2005, state lawmakers gave the University of Washington the inside track to establishing a branch campus in Snohomish County. But feuding among the area’s representatives on a location and the projected billion-dollar pricetag torpedoed the effort.
In 2009, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson approached the late WSU President Elson Floyd about giving it a try. Rather than build an entire campus, the approach was to ease the Pullman-based university into the community.
With a cadre of Snohomish County lawmakers pushing, a 2011 law set the stage for WSU to be put in charge of the University Center — Everett Community College had masterfully managed this higher education collaboration for several years — and from there, work on erecting the pillars for the campus.
The new building is located at 915 N. Broadway and occupies a corner of the parking lot of the College Plaza shopping center, a property owned by Everett Community College. It cost $64.6 million to design and build with some funds used to acquire land for parking.
It will house classes and programs of WSU North Puget Sound at Everett as well as University Center, which brings together several universities and colleges to offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. The first classes will be held in the new structure Aug. 21.
There are civic leaders who envision WSU’s presence in Everett one day rivaling that of the University of Washington in Bothell.
Established in 1989, UW Bothell offered its first classes the next year. It had 126 students and held classes in a business park. A decade later the university moved onto property next to Cascadia College. UW Bothell had 5,100 undergraduate students at the start of the current school year.
By comparison, WSU North Puget Sound enrolled nearly 200 students in the fall of 2016. The University Center had another 500 students in classes offered by UW Bothell, the three regional universities — Western, Eastern and Central — and other colleges. The new WSU building has capacity for 1,000 to 1,100 students.
“I would hope we are as successful as Bothell. I know it can be,” said Bob Drewel, special adviser to WSU president Kirk Schulz and a former interim chancellor of the Everett outpost. “Not too many institutions come to a community as ready as we did. If the community grows, we will continue to grow.”
Dunshee said a better model would be UW Tacoma. The university also started classes in 1990 and had enrolled roughly 5,000 students as of last fall. It too started in temporary quarters before setting root in a downtown building and spreading. Today it is an anchor in an area that’s undergone an economic makeover with the addition of several new restaurants and shops.
“It’s really transformed that downtown,” Dunshee said. Everett’s experience could be similar and really take off if light rail reaches the city because WSU will be able to pull in people from up and down the route.
Civic leaders know the ability of WSU Everett to expand will depend on future state legislatures providing money for more buildings and increased enrollment. Also, the area’s population will need to be large enough to continue supporting it.
That’s not been a problem of late. Snohomish County is in the midst of a population surge. It has added roughly 76,000 people since 2011 with more than half of them arriving in the last three years. The rapid pace has WSU officials considering its timetable for expansion.
“It certainly has piqued our strategic understanding that (WSU) Everett has a potential to grow at a much faster rate to feed the growing population,” said Ann Goos, WSU’s director for public affairs. “This is where we have to be nimble to respond.”
While there’s talk of a second building in Everett, there is nothing on the drawing board.
“We are and have been looking at how we can grow our footprint up there,” she said. “We know that as Snohomish County continues to grow, there is a great opportunity to grow and expand course offerings.”
As this newest WSU campus grows, so too will the venerable Everett Community College.
In the last five years the community college quadrupled its number of engineering students, established the Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center and built academic pathways for students to migrate from its offerings into degree programs of WSU.
“We’re a growing institution,” Beyer said. “It’s all tied to having a four-year university’s presence in the community.”