Bellevue College declares interest in opening Issaquah Highlands campus

August 24, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

UPDATED — 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24, 2010

Bellevue College is interested in buying 20 acres in the Issaquah Highlands for a potential extension campus, the college president announced Tuesday — a week after the City Council opened the land under consideration to denser development.

The announcement kicks off a comprehensive review by Bellevue College leaders. The college — the third-largest educational institution in the state — intends to determine how the site could meet its long-term needs.

“Our main campus is reaching the limit of how much we can expand our classroom space,” college President Jean Floten said in a statement. “If we don’t take action now, we could easily end up boxed in by our own property boundaries, not to mention the growing traffic congestion all around us. We need to be able to keep expanding with the community.”

Port Blakely Communities, the developer behind the highlands, owns the 20-acre parcel under consideration.

Port Blakely executive Judd Kirk, a member of the highlands team, could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.

“This also is the best time for 10 years, at least, to acquire land at a good price and in an excellent location,” Floten continued. “Importantly, it affords freeway access for those coming west and east and is close to the Highway 18 exchange.”

The site could also put a campus in close proximity to a Swedish Medical Center complex scheduled to open in phases in 2011 and 2012, plus a King County Metro Transit hub.

The property under consideration is a piece in a complicated land deal meant to preserve about 140 forested acres — 102 acres on Tiger Mountain and another 43 acres adjacent to the highlands.

Under the agreement, up to 550 additional residences could be built on 35 acres in the highlands. The land under consideration by Bellevue College is part of the 35-acre parcel.

Mayor Ava Frisinger said she hoped for the Bellevue College announcement to help allay concerns from highlands residents uneasy about added density in their neighborhood.

Before the City Council opened the land to denser development in a unanimous decision Aug. 16, members heard from about 20 people — most of them highlands residents opposed to the deal.

Frisinger said city leaders stepped up efforts to attract a college campus after a 2005 city-commissioned economic vitality report recommended a campus for Issaquah.

“This is something that we have hoped for for a very long time throughout the city,” she said.

Only the University of Washington and Washington State University outrank Bellevue College in size. The institution serves about 35,000 students each year.

Floten noted the proximity of the highlands site to the Swedish campus and other medical offices could mean partnership opportunities for the college’s health care programs.

Other potential draws: the under-construction YWCA Family Village at Issaquah, Grand Ridge Elementary School and access to mass transit — “all of which present the potential for developing innovative programs. In all, this is a great location,” Floten said.

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