UW north supporters debate urban, rural location

OLYMPIA — Advocates for a new University of Washington branch campus packed an Olympia hearing room Thursday to argue whether an urban Everett location or a more spacious Marysville campus would be the best site to serve the north Puget Sound region.

Backers of a 27-acre Everett site adjacent to the city's transit center said Everett is closest to population centers, convenient to public transportation and offers a wealth of high-tech employers with whom future students can partner.

Proponents of a 369-acre site in North Marysville said the more rural location offers a traditional campus setting with room for dormitories, sports fields and future growth. It would also better serve students in Island and Skagit counties, they said.

Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee that held the hearing and the sponsor of a bill that names Everett as the site for the college, became emotional as he talked about the importance of education to the state's future.

"It's been a longtime goal of mine that every student have access to college," said Shin, who came to America from Korea as the adopted son of an American GI and went on to earn a doctorate at the UW and to teach college for 31 years.

"We're not here to talk about who's right and who's wrong. We're here to provide higher education for students."

The 2007 Legislature authorized $4 million to begin the planning process for a branch campus that would serve 5,000 students by 2025. The comprehensive, four-year school would emphasize science and technology and offer experiential learning in partnership with regional employers.

Gov. Christine Gregoire included an additional $1.1 million in this year's supplemental budget to begin offering classes in the fall, but only if the factions in Snohomish County could agree on a location.

A representative of the UW asked whether the state can afford a new four-year college estimated to cost $800 million to build and an additional $40 million per year to operate.

"Our concern is how do you pay for this? That's not a concern of the UW, that's a concern of all of higher education," said Randy Hodgins, UW director of state relations.

Hodgins said the UW supports the Everett location. The site was ranked first in a $1 million site-selection process last year. The Marysville site ranked second.

Marysville proponents criticized that process for including the Everett Station site. Since the site recommendations were released in November, the city has said four acres that it included in its offering are owned by Sound Transit. Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said Sound Transit is open to development on the site, as long as its parking needs are met.

He said the city also has written or verbal agreements with neighboring property owners willing to sell an additional 18 acres.

But Bill Binford, a Marysville businessman, said the Everett Station site is bisected by train tracks and too small to serve the college's projected enrollment.

"The idea that this site will serve 5,000 students is ludicrous. We're really missing the mark," he said.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, also became emotional when talking about the educational needs of her largely rural district that extends into Island and Skagit counties. She is backing a bill that doesn't name the Marysville site but directs the Legislature to choose a more central location in the three-county region.

"In talking to people in my district, they tell me, 'My kids are working hard, but there's no opportunity to go to college.' "

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com