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Friday, November 16, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Everett top choice for new UW branch

Seattle Times staff reporters

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UW North report: To read the full report on the recommendation of the Everett Station site, go to http://www.ofm.wa.gov/reports/uwnorth/

That cheer that went up in Everett on Thursday was the once blue-collar mill town glimpsing what may be a centerpiece of its revitalized future.

Consultants named the city's landmark transit station the first choice among four sites in Snohomish County to become home to a proposed new University of Washington branch campus that would emphasize science and technology.

But that's about the only place anyone was cheering.

The announcement means Bothell could end up with a vastly scaled-back UW branch. UW regents in Seattle, meanwhile, are wondering where the hundreds of millions of dollars will come from to build a new school. And representatives of the locations in Snohomish County that were rated below the Everett Station site vow to continue to lobby for their sites.

The consultants' report to the Legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire concluded that the 32-acre Everett Station site would offer students the advantages of an urban location and would be among the least expensive to develop compared with the other site finalists: Smokey Point in Marysville, Everett's Riverside site, and Lake Stevens just east of the Highway 2 trestle.

"Everyone has a big grin on their faces, including me," said Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson. "This has always been about students. Now families here can consider educational options close to home."

But Everett's gain could turn out to be Bothell's loss. UW officials said the 17-year-old Bothell branch campus, which has struggled to attract students and community support, could shrink as an Everett campus grows.

"The center of gravity for this campus may move north," said Kenyon Chan, the chancellor of UW Bothell. "Over time, we would probably diminish the size of the footprint here."

UW President Mark Emmert said it would make sense for one administrator to run both campuses and for them to be known by one name, perhaps "UW North Sound."

"It's not impossible that these will be folded into one branch campus," said Emmert.

UW leaders Thursday released an academic plan for the proposed college that recommended creating a complete campus with a wide range of offerings rather than taking an incremental approach as was done with the Bothell and Tacoma campuses, which today enroll only about 2,000 students each.

The plan estimates the cost of building a new, 5,000-student campus in Everett at between $645 million and $803 million. Operating costs would run about $40 million a year.

It will be up to the Legislature to make the final decision about where the new college is located and establish a timetable for when it will be built — or whether it is built at all. Classes at an interim location are supposed to be offered beginning next fall.

But some UW Regents remain openly skeptical about whether the project represents a good use of money.

"For some reason, the story of the emperor who has no clothes keeps going through my mind," said Regent Chairman Stan Barer at a meeting Thursday. "The problem isn't a lack of campuses. We have plenty of campuses. The real problem is: How do you get more kids ready for college?"

The UW's plan calls for an ambitious outreach effort in the North Sound region to encourage more students to pursue careers in math and science. The effort could then be extended to the entire state, the report says, noting that the percentage of Washington high-school graduates who go on to college is below the national average and falling.

The plan recommends that UW North offer courses in engineering, health, education and business in conjunction with a strong arts and sciences core. It also would emphasize experiential learning and critical thinking, the report says.

The UW initially opposed the creation of a new college, saying the state wasn't adequately funding its existing institutions of higher education. Thursday, UW officials cautioned that the plans to create a new branch campus must not come at the expense of the state's current community colleges and four-year institutions.

"The challenge for the Legislature is how do they provide funding for this college without cutting funding to other colleges or anything else central to state government," said Randy Hodgins, UW director of government relations.

The 2007 Legislature authorized $4 million to recommend a location and develop an academic plan for a branch campus that would address the higher-education needs of North Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties. Local leaders say the region lags behind the rest of the state in residents with college degrees because of the lack of access.

NBBJ Architects of Seattle was the lead firm on the site-consulting team.

Over the past three months, hundreds attended enthusiastic and often partisan town-hall meetings in the competing cities. UW officials and representatives from the governor's office also met with dozens of local Chamber of Commerce, business and political leaders.

The announcement that an Everett location was the No. 1 pick was greeted with enthusiastic applause at a lunch meeting of the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber President Louise Stanton-Masten said the Everett Station site offers an urban setting, opportunities for student life, and a wealth of employers for students to partner with.

The Chamber had secured endorsements for an Everett location from more than 80 businesses in the region, including Boeing, Fluke and Kimberly-Clark.

"This is very exciting news for Everett," Stanton-Masten said. "This is a chance for Everett to continue its renaissance" that began with landing Naval Station Everett and building the Everett Events Center.

But there was grumbling among leaders in Marysville and cities to the north who believe the Everett site is too small and too far south to adequately serve students in the three-county region.

"An elementary school in my district requires 30 acres, and they want to put a college on 32?" asked Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. "If this is a college for the future, why would we limit ourselves to such a small site?"

Haugen also called traffic getting into and out of Everett "a nightmare."

Marysville City Administrator Mary Swenson also was critical of the consultants' work, which she said overestimated the cost to develop that city's 369-acre rural site near Smokey Point.

The report says the site, currently strawberry fields and pasture, would have to be covered in 3 to 5 feet of fill dirt because of a high water table and lacks the infrastructure, including roads and utilities, that a college needs.

Swenson said the city had already spent $4 million on improvements to the area and plans to spend $6 million more.

"We're frustrated," she said. "We have a story to tell."

Marysville backers also noted that cost estimates for the Everett site didn't include environmental cleanup. Portions of the site appear on the State Department of Ecology's list of contaminated sites.

The Everett Station site also is shoehorned in around the transit center. Some businesses in the area, which include an Everett Steel distribution warehouse, cabinet makers, a heating-oil delivery company and other light industries, would have to relocate if the college ever were to expand.

Gregoire urged the region's political leaders to rally behind whatever site is ultimately chosen.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said he wouldn't derail the process, but would continue to lobby on behalf of the Lake Stevens site. That 98-acre site was a distant fourth in the consultants' analysis, with one property owner refusing to sell and another 35 acres already slated for a county park. The remaining area contained wetlands, but the consultants did say the property would cost less than the others to develop.

Hobbs said the real problem facing the Legislature will be how to fund a new college.

"Mayor Stephanson, Mayor Kendall [of Marysville], we have to come up with some good funding options so we can build a quality institution."

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com; Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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