In tough times, a step forward

Everett Community College took another exciting step into its future this week with the opening of Gray Wolf Hall, the second of four new academic buildings planned for the growing campus.

The $48 million, three-story building, which opened its doors to students Monday and will host a community celebration at 1:30 p.m. today, marks a new technological and environmental achievement for the college. Among its many high-tech amenities, it will open other college and university campuses to students by beaming live lectures from partner institutions into four of its classrooms. Gray Wolf also incorporates cutting-edge energy efficiency, including window placement, computer-controlled lighting and air-flow strategies that will save on heating and lighting costs.

Perhaps the most important advantage Gray Wolf offers EvCC students, though, is that it brings the University Center of North Puget Sound onto the campus from its former home at Everett Station. University Center offers 24 bachelor’s and master’s degrees from six partner institutions, and having it on campus will give current freshmen and sophomores new opportunities to mix with upper-division students, and to meet university faculty and advisers. Many, no doubt, will be inspired to continue their education without having to move or take on a new commute.

The value and promise of the University Center is often overlooked in the ongoing quest for a stand-alone university or branch campus to serve Snohomish County students. While the need for such a campus remains clear, the University Center is growing as an option for folks seeking four-year and graduate degrees. Western Washington University, in particular, is making significant and welcome additions to its offerings here.

Demand for college and university classes is peaking with the economic downturn, as unemployed workers seek new career paths. The state’s budget crisis has already forced more than 300 Worker Retraining students to be turned away from EvCC for a lack of financial aid, and the short-term picture could get even worse before it gets better.

Long-term, however, EvCC’s master plan calls for growth. In the coming years it will continue to replace outdated buildings and stretch its footprint to the east, across North Broadway. That property is part of an important land swap between the college and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, a deal that will help both institutions keep up with the needs of their growing service areas.

That’s the kind of long-range planning that will help our community remain strong for generations to come, offering meaningful opportunities no matter which way the economic winds blow.

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