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Branch campus stalls in state legislature
MARYSVILLE Its not over until its over, declared State Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, early the week of March 10.
By March 13, however, the battle to bring a branch campus of the University of Washington to Snohomish County was in fact over, at least for this year.
Along with State Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, Sells launched what amounted to a last ditch effort to get the state legislature to formally endorse a Snohomish County branch campus of the U of W during this session. The joint bill would have given statutory backing to a Snohomish County branch, but totally avoided the contentious issue of where exactly the campus would land.
It still didnt fly. As an alternative, the state House set aside $100,000 for further consideration of the overall issue.
From the citys perspective, we have to be glad there was at least some money put into the budget for a branch campus, said Marysville Chief Administrative Officer Mary Swenson.
According to Swenson, the latest branch study will look at the four locations named last year by state consultants as finalists for placement of a branch campus. As has been well publicized, the potential sites include approximately 300 acres in the Smokey Point neighborhood of northern Marysville.
Two Everett locations, along with a spot in Lake Stevens, also still are under consideration. Those state consultants named Everetts Pacific Station as their first pick for a new campus site, with Marysville coming in second.
Besides expressing gratitude at the unexpected funding, Swenson was pleased the new House plan specifically calls for officials and residents in Skagit and Island counties to be part of the ongoing planning process.
That is significant, Swenson said.
At least as initially envisioned, the new campus was to serve northern Snohomish, Island and Skagit county students. As obvious backers of the Marysville site, local city officials consistently have argued any Everett location would be too far south of the target population.
Last year, consultants and university officials spent a good deal of time, not to mention approximately $1 million in state funds, scouring the area and holding town hall meetings to try and determine a sound location for a branch campus. Consultants reached a consensus, but legislators didnt.
Sells and Dunshee backed Pacific Station, while Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, was the chief legislative promoter of the Marysville location. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, naturally backed the Lake Stevens setting.
Of course Im disappointed we didnt vote to move forward this year, Haugen said. But the fact of the matter is, there was no agreement on the site.
Haugen said she absolutely refused to back an Everett location and wont do so in the future.
Id rather see us do nothing rather than do the wrong thing, she said.
Besides the obvious disagreements over location, Haugen said legislators discovered the state was in more a fiscal crunch than many officials anticipated making funding for a new campus an unexpectedly hard sell.
I honestly believe next year is going to be a much better time to get this moving, she said.
The newest campus funding will go to the states Higher Education Coordinating Committee, now charged with coming up with some consensus on a branch campus location by Dec. 1. While some officials, in Olympia and elsewhere, expect another site study, Haugen doesnt see the need.
Im looking at this as more of a placeholder to acknowledge that we will keep looking, she said. We dont need more study.
Swenson hopes the difference between last years efforts and future efforts lies in the fact that the new undertaking will be, from the outset, in the hands of higher education officials. Last years work started with the state Office of Fiscal Management.
If in the end, the campus never appears, or at least doesnt appear in Marysville, what happens to those 300 acres in Smokey Point? As other city officials have contended in the past, Swenson said the land will not sit perpetually vacant. The land is zoned for light industry or business park use.
Though she declined to name names, Swenson said at least a few Boeing subcontractors have expressed, to the private owners or to the city, an interest in some of the property. She said those potential projects could move forward no matter what happens regarding the branch campus.
University planners are looking at using approximately 300 acres, though Swenson said its not clear the branch would take up even that much space at least initially. She added there are roughly 700 total acres available for development.
Keep in mind this is the only large piece of land in this area directly adjacent to I-5, Swenson said, a factor she clearly feels could become a major selling point for the property.