Seven years after the College of Western Idaho opened, the school is making big plans for expansion that reflect its off-the-charts enrollment growth.
College leaders will come to voters in Ada and Canyon counties on Tuesday, Nov. 8, seeking tax dollars to back a $180 million bond sale to pay for an expanded Nampa campus and a second, permanent Ada County campus in Boise’s West End. Early voting begins Oct. 11 in Canyon County and Oct. 17 in Ada County.
The Ada County campus would accommodate CWI’s anticipated growth and may spur development along the corridor between Main and State streets and between the Boise River and Downtown. Other development, such as Esther Simplot Park and a whitewater park, is already generating interest in new apartment development.
CWI said its proposed bond sale may be the largest educational construction bond in Treasure Valley history. The next largest was $139 million in 2006 for several new schools in the fast-growing West Ada School District..
President Bert Glandon and the college’s elected trustees hope voters will move beyond sticker shock and invest in the Treasure Valley’s economy by providing greater access to education and providing more students with marketable skills.
So before you cast your ballot, here’s what you should know.
Q: What is the College of Western Idaho?
A: It is a two-year community college with a main campus in Nampa and dispersed, rented spaces for classes in both counties. Voters created it in 2007 after Boise State University sought to divest its two-year degree programs. CWI opened in January 2009 with 1,200 students. Pent-up demand for affordable higher education has swelled the ranks to 20,000.
Q: Why does CWI believe it needs $180 million?
A: Three reasons: growth, leases and student travel.
Growth: CWI enrollment projections show the school could add 5,000 more students in five years and 10,000 more by 2027, boosting enrollment to 35,000.
Leases: The college is paying more than $2 million a year in leases. It has spent millions remodeling that space to fit its needs. Lease agreements start coming up for renewal in 2019, and school officials expect rent increases.
Travel: Some students must travel several miles between leased space in Canyon County and the main campus in Nampa for same-day classes.
Many notable bond supporters, including Micron Technology and Blue Cross of Idaho, were behind the 2007 push to create the College of Western Idaho.
Q: What would the bond pay for?
A: A health science center and student success center for the Nampa campus, and a classroom building as the first phase of an independent campus in Boise at Main Street and Whitewater Park Boulevard.
The school would also relocate its horticulture programs from near the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise and its truck driving school in Canyon County to the Nampa campus. CWI hopes to expand its horticulture program into agriculture science, which is not possible at the present location.
Q: What will it cost taxpayers?
A: College officials estimate the price tag at $22.31 per $100,000 of taxable value of your house each year for 25 years. That would more than double the college’s current tax rate of $16.63 per $100,000.
The taxable value is what is left after the homeowner’s exemption — up to $94,745 in 2016 — is subtracted. For a house with Ada County’s August median home-sale price of $253,000, the bond would cost $35.31 after the 2016 exemption.
Q: Why is a health science building necessary?
A: Health sciences, including nursing and emergency medical technicians, are high-demand fields, college leaders say. Their classes are scattered in leased spaces.
Executives of the area’s two big nonprofit hospital systems back the proposal.
“We are facing a shortage in all specialties, especially critical care,” said Clint Child, vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer at Saint Alphonsus in Nampa. “This building really helps with development of programs.”
“We are supportive of CWI’s efforts to improve educational opportunities for the community, particularly students in health care professions,” said Misty Thomas, chief of nursing at St. Luke’s Nampa Hospital.
91 percent The share of CWI students who find jobs coming out of the school’s professional-technical programs, according to the college.
Q: What will be in the Boise building?
A: Classrooms and business and technology programs.
Q: Won’t it cost more than the leases to occupy these buildings and pay for ongoing costs such as heat and lights?
A: CWI pays $2.9 million per year for leases and the operation of leased buildings. The estimated cost to operate the new buildings is $2.2 million per year. Operating costs would continue to be paid through the annual operating budget, not the bond sale. So CWI expects to save up to $700,000 a year. However, some of that could go toward any unanticipated operating costs.
Q: $180 million is 60 years’ worth of operating costs. Why not keep the leased space and save money?
A: College officials note that student-enrollment growth means more and more space will be needed.
Also, rented space that was created as office space is not optimized to hold classes. Plus, spread-out buildings make security difficult, said Craig Brown, vice president for resource development.
And lease costs aren’t stagnant — they likely will rise, Brown said.
Q. Why do the whole $180 million at once? Why not do some now and some later?
A: “We could take a smaller bite and in two years we would have to take another bite,” CWI President Bert Glandon said. “Let’s be transparent. Let’s be honest if we are really going to serve this community. Let the community chew on and debate it.”
Q: What is required to pass the CWI bond?
A: A two-thirds majority of votes cast. If one county falls short, the bond would still pass if the overall majority is two-thirds.
Q. Nov. 8 could be a busy, contentious election, considering the race for president. Why not wait until May, which would likely be a quieter election?
A: “I have such respect for our board,” Glandon said. “It took a course to step out and say, ‘No bond this big has ever passed on the first time out.’ If it happens, wow. Our board said we need to test the market. If we have to come back in May, we will come back in May.”
Q: Didn’t CWI get a lot of pushback on its purchase of the 10 acres in Boise for the Ada County campus?
A: Yes. Many people thought the $8.8 million price for the former Bob Rice Ford property was too high. Moreover, CWI waffled on getting an appraisal of the property. At first, the board chairwoman apologized for not doing it. Then CWI said the law didn’t require it. Finally, the school agreed to do an appraisal, which came in at $8.9 million.
We have an image problem with the property.
CWI President Bert Glandon, on the college’s purchase of 10 acres in the West End for a Boise campus
Q: How can the school expect voters to support a bond with that kind of track record?
A: “We will continue to restate that we paid less than the appraised value,” Glandon said. “We have been working with that ever since we started the process.”
Q: Who is for or against this bond?
A: CWI trustees are beginning to release the names of supporters for CWI’s expansion. Among them:
Elected leaders: State. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, the assistant majority leader; state Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, state Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, the assistant minority leader.
Opponents do not appear to have organized.
Q: Are there other bonds on the ballot?
A: In Meridian, yes. The Western Ada Recreation District, which is mostly in Meridian, will ask voters for a $20 million bond for two swimming pools. They would cost homeowners $14.52 per year per $100,000 of taxable value. The Meridian Library District is asking for $12 million for two new libraries. The libraries would cost taxpayers $11.05 per year per $100,000.
To cast your ballot
Absentee ballots: Download an application for an absentee ballot at IdahoVotes.gov. It must be received by your county clerk by 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28. Mail the ballot so the clerk receives it by 8 p.m. Election Day.
Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 8. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Call for help: Ada County elections (287-6860) or Canyon County elections (454-7562).
Ada County: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday from Oct. 17 through Nov. 4 at all locations except the Ada County elections office, which opens at 7 a.m. Polls close at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. Ada County elections office, 400 N. Benjamin Lane, Boise; Boise City Hall, 150 N. Capitol Blvd.; Meridian City Hall, 33 E. Broadway Ave.; Eagle Senior Center, 312 E. State St., Eagle. Saturday voting: Oct. 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Ada County elections office.
Canyon County: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Monday through Friday from Oct. 11 to Nov. 4. Saturday voting: 8 a.m. to noon between those dates. Elections office, 1102 E. Chicago St., Caldwell.