Education

Denied at the ballot box, CWI unveils new tricks up its sleeve to fund expansion

A look at College of Western Idaho’s proposed health science building

This College of Western Idaho video shows how the new building would look and makes a case for its need. Students would be trained for nursing, natural and life science, emergency response and other medicine- and health-related careers.
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This College of Western Idaho video shows how the new building would look and makes a case for its need. Students would be trained for nursing, natural and life science, emergency response and other medicine- and health-related careers.

With every failure at the voting booth, the College of Western Idaho’s dreams of expansion have shrunk. But it’s not stopping yet.

In 2016, CWI asked voters to raise their own taxes so it could spend $180 million to build a health science building and a student center in Nampa, plus a new campus in Boise’s West End.

After that failed, CWI went to the voters again in 2018, asking them to pay for just the health sciences building, which still would have cost $39 million. The levy fell just 135 votes short.

Now, CWI is reducing its scope. At a town hall meeting this week, Craig Brown, the college’s executive vice president of operations, presented the faculty, students and residents with new funding options to build up CWI’s campus.

Nursing and health science programs remain the college’s top priorities. “There’s a huge need and very good jobs for students there,” Brown said.

CWI is hoping it can still fund additions to existing buildings and gain space for classrooms and labs by consolidating programs and remodeling some classrooms.

Brown proposed three options. The most pricey: CWI could go back to voters for money to expand two of the three buildings on its Nampa campus. The price: $20 million, about half the amount sought last November.

Option 2: CWI could increase student tuition and fees to pay for a new multipurpose building in Nampa, which would cost $30 million.

Option 3: CWI could decide to simply remodel its existing buildings in Nampa, at a cost of $15 million.

There’s one major factor at play in any decision the college makes.

“Taxpayer support... is it even possible?” Brown asked. Many in the room expressed doubts.

Lurking behind all the talk of consolidating spaces are some faculty fears that in CWI’s push to expand programs it considers most vital to the Treasure Valley’s future, like health and life sciences, it will squeeze out other programs.

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The College of Western Idaho had hoped to build a new campus next to the Boise River Greenbelt at this site of a former car dealership on the northwest corner of Fairview Avenue and Whitewater Park Boulevard. But voters have refused to raise their own taxes to fund that campus and two buildings in Nampa. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

“We’ll make room for you,” Brown assured the crowd as he listed programs that would need to be moved around under different scenarios. “Anybody in this room who is directly related to any of the programs I’m talking about: Don’t panic.”

“Too late,” someone shot back.

“The panic button is pushed,” said Pat Reed, a shop assistant in the power-sports and small-engine repair program. His department has failed to recruit enough students to fill its classrooms even as other programs like nursing burst at the seams.

Brown said CWI’s space needs could change as more classes shift online.

“Technology is going to re-appropriate space as we might know it today,” he said. “The concept of an instructor standing in front of a class is beginning to shift.”

That’s why the college has focused on building up interactive spaces — like labs and meeting rooms.

“When it comes down to how many square feet we build, we have to ask ourselves: Do we build for now? Or do we build for the future?” he said.

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The Micron Center for Professional Technical Education opened in 2012 in Nampa. Administrators want to find a way to use the space more efficiently there. Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Just as important, CWI also wants to stop renting out satellite classrooms throughout the Treasure Valley and centralize its campuses in Nampa and Boise, creating a true college feel.

The college also faces a ticking clock: All three of the options it’s considering include $10 million in funding already authorized from the Legislature. Lawmakers could take back that funding and redistribute it to other agencies if CWI doesn’t use it.

It’s taken a lot of time to get that kind of funding, and it may never come again,” Brown said.

Administrators got an earful about the other funding mechanisms proposed, too.

Andrea Schumaker, a faculty member in the agriculture department, questioned why administrators thought taxpayers would support CWI this time around, even if they ask voters for less.

“What have we learned?” she asked. “And what are we going to do differently?”

Mary Niland, secretary of the Board of Trustees, offered an answer: “Canyon County has different demographics, different populations, different needs, than Ada County,” she said. “We need to address the people in both the counties by telling them how they’ll benefit. I don’t think we’ve done that well.”

Student body class president Samantha Moore spoke about the possibility of raising tuition from $139 per credit to $149.

One of my concerns with improving the college and making it bigger ... is how that fits with our students and their financial ability to stay here,” Moore said. “At the end of the day, if it’s too expensive, we run the risk of having a lot of students leave our institution.”

For now, the proposals are just that: proposals, said Board of Trustees Chairman Skip Smyser.

“Before we make any decisions we’ll be looking for a lot of input,” he said.

Here’s more information on the three options Brown presented:

1. $35 million

This would consolidate health courses, currently taught at the Canyon County Center, 2407 Caldwell Blvd., and the Ada Campus Mallard Building, 9100 W. Black Eagle Drive, into the Micron Center, 5725 E. Franklin Road. CWI would relocate its technology programs to the Mallard Building. The expansion might also allow CWI to add new health programs for students in occupational therapy and medical lab technology.

Student support services, like the the bookstore, library, student clubs and student services, would be moved to the Nampa Campus Academic Building, 5500 E. Opportunity Drive, which CWI could expand.

CWI would partially remodel library space at its Nampa Aspen Multipurpose Building, 6002 Birch Lane, into additional classroom or meeting space.

Any space freed up at the Canyon County Center would be home to new career technical education and workforce programs, such as the new fire technician program.

The money would come from:

  • $10 million in state funding

  • $5 million of CWI’s reserve funding

  • $20 million plant facilities levy, which the college could put on the ballot in November 2019 or May 2020

2. $30 million

This plan would remodel and expand the Nampa Campus Academic Building with additional science labs and centralize student support services.

It would also build a new multipurpose building to house the health programs, an expanded library and the bookstore.

The Micron Center, Aspen Multipurpose Building and Canyon County Center would be remodeled slightly.

The money would come from:

  • $10 million in state funding

  • $5 million of CWI’s reserve funding

  • $15 million in student tuition and fee increases

There’s a problem: The state limits how much community colleges can raise tuition — and CWI has already hit the ceiling. This option would require CWI to find a way to get around that limitation.

3. $15 million

Without having to turn to taxpayers for funds beyond the $15 million CWI already has in state and reserve funds, the college could consolidate its health programs into the Micron building by relocating other programs and potentially expanding the second floor.

Any space freed up at the Canyon County Center would be home to new career technical-education and workforce-development programs, such as the new fire technology program.

This option would limit adding new courses in the future, Brown said.

The money would come from:

  • $10 million in state funding

  • $5 million of CWI’s reserve funding

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.
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