CWI board likely to seek appraisal for controversial land purchase

The College of Western Idaho’s Board of Trustees will likely seek an appraisal of property it plans to buy for a Boise campus after Treasure Valley residents criticized the school for not getting one, the community college’s chairwoman says.

But an Ada County commissioner wants the board to do more than that. In a letter Tuesday to CWI Chairwoman Mary Niland, Commissioner David L. Case asked the school to pull out of the land deal because the sale price is well above the property’s assessed value.

CWI announced in April that it had signed a deal to buy a site west of Downtown Boise for $8.8 million for an academic building with a parking garage. The property is valued at $3.6 million by the Ada County assessor.

Case said the CWI board would not be living up to its fiduciary responsibility if it paid more than twice the land’s assessed value. “I am writing on behalf of the people I represent in Ada County,” Case told the Idaho Statesman.

Trustees said they did not know the value of the tax assessment and didn’t seek an appraisal before agreeing to buy the old Bob Rice Ford dealership at 3150 Main St., just across the Boise River from The Riverside Hotel.

“I think we will be going ahead with the appraisal,” Niland told the Statesman.

Niland said she would not speculate on what the board would do with the results. But trustee Stan Bastian said if the appraised value comes in lower than the purchase price, the board could consider renegotiating the deal or pulling out of it. The sales agreement appears to give CWI some latitude to pull out.

“But we would no longer have the piece of property,” he said.

CWI officials were excited about the location when they announced the purchase, saying it was close to the I-184 Connector, the Boise River and the city’s whitewater park. City officials were excited too, with Mayor Dave Bieter saying it would spur development in the West End. The campus would serve thousands of students in Ada County.

Bastian said the board wanted the property so much that it made two offers that were turned down before a third offer was accepted.

That means the board could stand by its decision, even though the negative reaction could undermine its efforts to seek voter support for the campus. CWI is using cash on hand to buy the land, but it will need a two-thirds majority of voters at an election to borrow money for a possible $70 million academic building and parking garage, as well as $80 million to build two additional buildings on its Nampa campus.

CWI President Bert Glandon issued a statement Tuesday on the school’s website defending the deal. “The purchase price that we have entered into agreement for is well within the range of the properties we evaluated and the greater Downtown Boise area,” Glandon wrote. “The benefits of the property include the adjacency to the river and Greenbelt and roadways capable of handling high volumes of traffic in an urban environment.”

He did not return a phone call from the Idaho Statesman..

Board members said they searched from Eagle to near the Boise Airport for a suitable site to build a Boise campus and get out of leased space that costs the college more than $1 million a year. They said the search made them familiar with local commercial land values.

The purchase negotiations were conducted in board sessions that were closed to the public.

A legislative leader said he would back a change in state law to require community college districts to seek appraisals before buying property, just as school districts must. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the Statesman the board’s failure to get an appraisal was a “rookie mistake.”

State Rep. Rick Youngblood, a Republican whose Nampa district includes CWI’s main campus, said he would consider supporting such a change.

Other Idaho community colleges, including the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, say they already obtain appraisals.

Niland apologized for the oversight last week. “I do believe this is one mistake we made, and I don’t want it to be our history,” she said Tuesday.