The College of Western Idaho wants to build a permanent campus west of Downtown Boise to replace rented spaces where thousands of students now attend class.
Leaders of the 6-1/2-year-old community college also want to add to their main Nampa campus by building a health sciences building and a student center.
To pay for the growth, college trustees may ask taxpayers in Ada and Canyon counties — who voted to create the college with a two-thirds majority in 2007 — to approve a $150 million bond sale.
The plans signal the largest physical campus growth since the school opened its doors in January 2009 on the site of the then-fledgling Boise State University west campus in Nampa. Enrollment shot from 1,200 credit-seeking students to more than 10,000 this school year. An additional 10,400 students are enrolled in workforce-development and basic-skills education classes that don’t provide college credit.
When the college was first approved, supporters promised to keep property taxes low. The tax rate was $13.33 per $100,000 of taxable value. It has since grown to $16.63. Taxpayers could see an additional increase if a bond is approved, although CWI says it is too early to say how much.
“I think very honestly if I look back at running the (2007) initiative, we didn’t have a concept of what we would end up with,” said Mary Niland, president of CWI’s board of trustees, who has been on the board since it started. “I think what is really driving this is that we have to meet economic needs of the community we serve. The other (need) is creating more educational opportunities.”
The trustees’ plans are preliminary. They are taking a survey of residents in both counties to assess support for a tax-backed bond sale and how they think the money should be used. Results are expected in a few weeks. A measure could go before voters this November or in May 2016.
Like the vote to create the college, a bond sale would require a two-thirds majority. It would authorize the school’s first bonded debt.
THE HEALTH SCIENCES BUILDING
A top priority at CWI is developing a workforce to fuel the Treasure Valley’s economy.
Companies in the health sector have told the school their demand for workers is high, and centralizing the school’s health programs, which are scattered across the Valley, would be more efficient, said Bert Glandon, CWI’s president.
“We know that with a health science building we can get huge synergies by taking all our health programs and putting them in one building where we can have consolidated labs and consolidated service,” he said.
CWI has 8,000 students across the Treasure Valley taking classes to be nurses, surgical technicians, EMS/paramedics, physical therapy assistants and exercise-science workers. The proposed health science building, planned at more than 82,000 square feet, would make room for an additional 1,500 students, school officials say. It would cost an estimated $35 million.
THE STUDENT CENTER
This center, possibly 160,000 square feet, would put financial aid, advising, counseling, testing and a study commons under one roof. It would cost an estimated $45 million.
THE BOISE CAMPUS
A permanent campus in Boise would give the school a sense of stability and sustainability, Glandon said. The association charged with granting the school its own accreditation — CWI operates under accreditation from College of Southern Idaho now — looks for both.
“If you are in leased buildings all over the place, that is not a good sign that you are stable and growing,” Glandon said. “One of the things they are looking at is, ‘OK when are you going to plant yourself?’”
Accreditation means a school meets recognized standards for educational quality.
CWI pays more than $1 million annually to provide classes in four buildings at Blackeagle Center near Maple Grove and Overland roads in west Boise, Niland said. “It’s not an investment in CWI.” With a new building, “we can control our costs and control our future.”
CWI officials don’t yet have an estimated size of the building, but its cost could be around $70 million.
WHERE WOULD THE BOISE CAMPUS BE?
Glandon declined to release the location of the property the college has in mind. The college is looking for five to seven acres, he said.
City officials support building a CWI campus near Downtown, said Mike Journee, a city spokesman.
CWI’s plans would extend the emergence of central Boise as an increasingly robust center of higher education. Concordia University School of Law opened in 2012. The University of Idaho is expanding its Boise law school into the old Ada County Courthouse. Boise State University plans to move third- and fourth-year computer-science students into the City Center Plaza near the U.S. Bank Plaza at Main Street and Capitol Boulevard. The university also located its Venture College in a Downtown building. And Boise State’s main campus, just across the Boise River from Downtown, has added new business, research and other buildings in the past several years.
HOW CWI WAS BORN
The College of Western Idaho was little more than a dream for years in the Treasure Valley, even as community colleges in Coeur d’Alene and Twin Falls were growing. Boise State fulfilled the community college role, offering degrees and professional-technical education through the Selland College of Applied Technology — at university prices. Oregon’s Treasure Valley Community College, whose main campus is in Ontario, offered classes in Caldwell and eventually built a building there. And several for-profit colleges offered training for certain health, business and other jobs.
But many potential community college students weren’t being served. Bob Kustra, the president of Boise State, focused on the need for a locally based community college as his own university was expanding in 2005 and he had to turn 900 students away.
Boise State flirted with creating a community college that would become independent after three years. Creating the school and moving the Selland programs off Boise State’s campus would give the university sorely needed growing room. In January 2007, Boise State asked the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation for $71 million to launch a community college at its Canyon County campus in Nampa.
But others favored a community college independent of Boise State. Supporters developed a plan to use property taxes to help pay for it. They went to the Legislature that winter, asking if the state-required two-thirds majority of voters needed to pass could be reduced to help ensure passage. Lawmakers said the communities should try first to see if they could get the supermajority.
So they tried. Niland, then president of the Nampa Chamber of Commerce, pushed for a petition shortly afterward. The proposal got onto the May 2007 ballot.
Privately, Niland didn’t think it would pass. But she thought the election would provide “an opportunity to educate the community and enough of a vote that we could go back to the Legislature to show there was a huge amount of interest.” Supporters skillfully targeted absentee voters to make certain those who backed the measure had every opportunity to cast a ballot. On election night, they won with 68 percent of the vote.