College of Western Idaho buys land to house Boise campus

The College of Western Idaho is buying 10 acres at the northwest corner of Whitewater Park Boulevard and Main Street in Boise for a permanent, multistory classroom building with a garage.

The property at 3150 W. Main St. is the site of the former Bob Rice Ford dealership and later the Lithia Ford dealership. Its buildings were demolished two years ago. CWI bought the land for $8.8 million from the Rice Family Trust by a unanimous vote of the school’s trustees Wednesday.

The college will create a steering committee and talk with the community and neighbors as plans for the campus take shape. Its ultimate cost could be $70 million.

A permanent Boise campus is part of a three-building project the college - six years, six months old - envisions for its Boise and Nampa campuses. In Nampa, school officials want to build a $35 million health sciences center and concentrate all health classes from across the Treasure Valley. They also want to build a student center for an estimated $45 million.

Trustees are awaiting results from a survey of Ada and Canyon county residents designed to gauge support for new buildings. They are considering asking voters to approve a $150 million bond in November or May to pay for the three structures through their property taxes. It is unclear how much that would affect Ada and Canyon County taxpayers, who now pay $16.63 per $100,000 of taxable value to support the school.

Thousands of Ada County students attend class at the Blackeagle Center business park on Overland Road near South Maple Grove Road. The rented space costs the college more than $1 million a year. Trustees say they want to get out of the leases to gain better control over their school.

“We are excited to find a location that supports our student community as well as the businesses seeking a trained and well-educated workforce,” said Mary Niland, CWI board president.

Redevelopment is already underway around the old dealership site, an area west of Downtown called the West End. For years, that stretch of Main Street was Boise’s auto row. Besides the Rice dealership and its successor Lithia Ford, there was a Golden Rule Target Saab and Subaru dealership and the Dick Donnelly Lincoln-Mercury dealership. The dealerships left after the opening of the I-84 Connector, which replaced Main Street as the primary route to Downtown from the west.

CWI’s presence will bring thousands of students, faculty and staff members to the area, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said. “They will be living, working, shopping and recreating — spurring a new round-the-clock vibrancy that will help knit together our expanding vision of Downtown’s footprint.”

A permanent home in Ada County also gives the school a better sense of stability and sustainability, an important part of the school’s hope for being accredited, said Bert Glandon, CWI president.

Voters approved the community college district in 2007. The college opened in 2009 with 1,200 students. Enrollment of credit-seek students has mushroomed to 10,217. In addition, the two-year community college is providing noncredit training for 10,480 students.