Bellevue College construction in Issaquah could start next year

October 25, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

City, college partner to plan Issaquah campus

Bellevue College could start construction on a campus in the Issaquah Highlands as early as next year, college and city officials announced, as the project gains momentum despite budget cuts and a dismal forecast from Olympia.

The college purchased about 20 acres last year in a complicated transfer of development rights designed to preserve Tiger Mountain forestland from construction and open additional highlands land to builders.

“In a time when a lot of the news in our part of world is very depressing, in terms of budget cuts and things, this is something we can look forward to,” Laura Saunders, Bellevue College interim president, said in a presentation to City Council members Sept. 27. “This is a way of building to the future.”

Throughout the summer, crews built and paved a road to access the planned campus.

Keith Niven, city Major Development Review Team program manager, said the timetable for construction is a surprise.

“I thought we were done for a while because, as Laura mentioned, the news out of Olympia was, nobody had any money, colleges were getting their budgets cut,” he said during the presentation to the council. “I figured this thing was going on the shelf for, maybe, the next 30, 40 years and eventually somebody would put a sign out there that said, ‘future home of Bellevue College.’”

Instead, college and city leaders continue to discuss a possible partnership to create the master site plan — or overarching design blueprint — for the campus. Niven said the goal is to complete the master site plan by April.

Mayor joins college’s presidential search

Bellevue College leaders appointed Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger to the committee overseeing the search for the institution’s next president, officials announced.

The advisory committee includes college administrators, faculty members, students and community leaders.

Bellevue College’s next president is expected to play a large role in the institution’s expansion to Issaquah. Former College President Jean Floten announced plans last August to open a satellite campus in the Issaquah Highlands and laid out a bold vision for the facility.

In September, the college selected a Florida search firm, Greenwood/Asher and Associates — a veteran in Washington State University and Western Washington University presidential searches — to find candidates.

Floten resigned from Bellevue College in August to serve as chancellor of WGU Washington, a nonprofit online university. Laura Saunders, a former Bellevue College administrator, is serving as interim president.

“I’m glad to report that we’ve got two signs going that say ‘future home of Bellevue College’ this week or maybe next,” he added.

Since then-College President Jean Floten announced the project last year, college administrators said fundraising for the campus is essential due to limited state dollars available for higher education facilities. The campus is all but certain to require decades to fund and build.

“Eventually if this gets developed into a real undergraduate campus, a teaching or learning center, maybe, or something like that, then we’ll talk about moving programs out and putting state money into it,” Saunders said. “That may be five, 10 years down the pike. I’m thinking it’s going to be 20, 25 years before we get it built out — and that’s optimistic given the way the money is available.”

Still, the process to develop the campus is under way. The college recently enlisted administrators, faculty and students in a process to envision the highlands campus.

“This is a great opportunity for the city and the college to form a great base of a long-term partnership,” Niven said.

Though firm details remain scant about the project, college and city officials said Bellevue College could host a town hall-style meeting to discuss the campus. The design process is subject to Urban Village Development Commission oversight.

Saunders said a fitness facility could join classrooms on the site, although student housing is not likely to be built on the highlands campus.

Overall, “it needs to be something relatively small, although this site creates some real challenges for small buildings, because there’s not a lot of places to put buildings,” she added. “You really ought to be building bigger. That’s a challenge we’re going to have to face as we get closer to putting the first building up there.”

The programs selected for the campus could also shape the construction on the site.

“What they do really well is figure out, OK, are these new programs that are coming out here? Are they existing programs that are having Issaquah offshoots?” Niven said. “Those are some of the things from a programming standpoint that they have to figure out.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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