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Town meeting on new college campus draws crowd

STANWOOD Advocates for various locations and opponents alike were among the 150 people who attended the north county town meeting at Stanwood High School on locating a four-year college campus to serve Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties, Tuesday, Aug. 14.
The meeting was the first of four to be held, with a second meeting the next night in Mount Vernon, and two more, in Oak Harbor Sept. 26 and in Everett Oct. 3.
The meeting featured three campus-siting committee members providing background on the criteria and the process being used to select a site.
The emcee of the meeting was the governors director of legislative affairs, Marty Brown. He was accompanied by Lee Huntsman, representing the academic planning process, and Martin Regge, representing NBBJ, the firm hired by the state to evaluate sites and make recommendations to the legislature come fall.
Lee Huntsman is president emeritus of the UW and was selected by the current president, Mark Emmert, to co-chair the community-based academic planning team, said Debora Merle, the governors executive policy advisor.
Of 73 potential sites that have been proposed, six are in Arlington, five are in Everett, three in Marysville, two in Monroe, two in Mountlake Terrace and one each in Sultan and Stanwood, with another six in Island County and eight in Skagit County.
After Brown opened the meeting with a description of the process to be used in selecting a site to recommend to the legislature this fall, Huntsman spoke about the academic planning. He joked that he is the old and white-haired representative on the committee that is locked into a closet to study the situation. He said that one of the first priorities is to find a community that will rise to the opportunity of working with students.
The availability of industry-based field work is an important criteria for the proposed campus.
He also pointed out that the new college should compliment what already exists, with a view toward the professional needs of the future. The new campus would first focus on providing upper level STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and math) to compliment the existing programs of community colleges in the region.
Our proposal should be a plan for many decades to come based on the best estimates available, Huntsman said.
Our charge is to come up with a proposal to deliver to the legislature Nov. 16.
He said that the committee is reviewing the unique character of the region and its needs, while using current information, such as the fact that Bothell and Tacoma branch campus students work much more as students than those who attend the central UW campus.
Regge explained the concept of fatal flaw which, he said, will eliminate many potential sites for the most obvious reasons, i.e. its way too small, or is largely wetlands.
After concluding their presentations, the presenters listened to input from the audience.
The chairperson of the group that is pursuing the campus for Stanwood, Tom Curtis, launched the public input session with the announcement that 150 people were in attendance, including Island County Councilman John Dean and Stanwoods mayor pro-tem Shelly Klasse, who reminded the committee that the city of Stanwood wants the campus by reading a city ordinance that was passed by the City Council July 19.
County Councilman John Koster said he was not going to advocate for any particular site, although he encouraged the committee to look hard at locating the campus north of Marysville. He also suggested the campus should definitely address the regional shortage of engineers and healthcare technicians.
Input from the public ranged from traffic issues and the committees strategy for measuring impacts on the community and the environment to the potential of better funding for a stand-alone college versus a branch of the UW.
While most of the publics questions came from residents from around north Snohomish County speaking in favor of locating the college anywhere north of Everett, a strong Stanwood contingent spoke in favor of Stanwood with some opponents as well.
Val Schroeder is one of only a few who questioned the wisdom of locating a college campus in Stanwood and was backed up with applause from perhaps 20 or more supporters.
We like our small town atmosphere and rural environment, Schroeder said. Is it really good for Stanwood?
Owner of one of the many proposed sites in north Snohomish County, Bill Binford agreed with Koster, suggesting that north Marysville should be included in the category of north of Marysville.
I would support any site from north Marysville and beyond, Binford said.
He suggested that students who get internships in Everett would not contribute negatively to the traffic as much because they would be in the reverse commute.
A college professor who lives on Whidbey Island, Larry Sather spoke in favor of any site north of Everett.
Even Stanwood is an hour drive away from Oak Harbor, he pointed out.
A land-use planner from Arlington, Noel Higa encouraged the committee to keep in mind the states Growth Management Act and how the campus would impact any communitys urban growth plan. He also asked the committee not to place the campus in Everett just because of Boeing.
We will have a lot more work opportunities here in north Snohomish County in the near future, Higa said.
A dairy and natural resources consultant, Carolyn Henri encouraged the committee to consider the potential impacts on natural resources, and to consider participating in the Transfer- or Purchase of Development Rights program to preserve agriculture while developing the campus. She suggested, too, that renewable energy should play a part in the plan.
A member of the Arlington Planning Commission, Jim Cummins encouraged the committee to think outside the box, make it dynamic and to keep in mind the potential of international students.
We need to keep a global outlook to make the branch campus a success, said the former schoolteacher, encouraging the committee to make the campus new and exciting.
Huntsman agreed that nonresident students could be an asset.
They bring a richness of culture and they pay full fare.
While some suggested a college campus brings only cheap housing, cheap restaurants and cheap bars to town, two participants in Stanwoods economic development efforts, spoke in favor of locating the college in Stanwood.
This is an exciting place to live, R. Santos said. College towns have a uniqueness that would blend well with Stanwood.
John Russell argued that colleges bring more than fast-food franchises, although he was more interested in the process that will be used in making the final choice.
Will it be transparent? Will we see eliminations as time goes by?
A resident of Marysville, Steve Miller asked a good question about the challenges that are facing UWs current branch campuses in Tacoma and Bothell.
They are at only 20 percent capacity.
Huntsman admitted that enrollment has been slower to build than anticipated, explaining his committee is examining how to make the campus as successful as possible.
When Binford asked the presenters if they had any advice to advocates in small communities on how to impact the final decision, Brown mentioned two different mayors.
Both Mayor Stevenson in Everett and Mayor White in Stanwood have said exactly what we want to hear, that they will provide the best possible services to the students.
The students are the most important element in the decision, Huntsman said.

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