In Our View: Northern Exposure

Clark College might be expanding; Ridgefield and Battle Ground compete for site

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Clark College officials are wise to consider building a satellite campus many years from now in north Clark County. A similar vision paid off last year when the college opened its east Vancouver campus in the Columbia Tech Center complex. Not only does the new facility provide new classrooms for the college to expand its program offerings, it also makes commuting more convenient for students. There are ample reasons to believe those same dual benefits can be accomplished in the county’s northern region.

Of course, no such expansion will take place for many years, as both the college and the Legislature continue to struggle through the devastating and lingering economic downturn. But already a couple of positive realities are coming into focus:

First, it could be compellingly argued that now is a great time for Clark College to purchase land for a north county campus, even if plans for opening that campus are years down the road. This lousy economy has created great deals for anyone interested in buying land or structures for expansion or consolidation. Vancouver city officials proved that in 2010 when the new city hall building (judged to be the right size and in a perfect location) was purchased at 57 percent off the list price of 2008 and 44 percent below the appraised value. That’s a smart use of public money. In Clark College’s case, a similar bargain could be expected. Current rock-bottom land prices justify a decision in the next year or so.

The provider of money for such an investment remains uncertain, but a logical source would be the Clark College Foundation, which paid $1.4 million for the 9.5-acre site of the east Vancouver campus. Today, the four-story, 70,000-square-foot building has 27 classrooms and labs, a conference area, faculty offices and parking for 700 vehicles.

The second positive reality is the enthusiasm this dream has created in north Clark County. Leaders in Battle Ground and Ridgefield are locked in a friendly competition for the new college campus, even if ground-breaking might be a decade or more down the road. This “Pick me! Pick me!” lobbying is stoking community spirit in both cities.

Battle Ground officials tout their “central” location. While the county’s second-largest city is generally (and correctly) perceived as part of north county, it is — technically — located near the geographical center of the county. Robert Maul, community development director for the city of Battle Ground, said in a Columbian story last week that 48 acres scheduled for inclusion in the city’s urban growth area are being considered by college officials as a possible site for a new campus.

Ridgefield, though, also presents a strong argument for a college campus. Although “downtown” proper is about two miles west of Interstate 5, Ridgefield’s city limits extend to more than a mile east of the freeway, setting up the city’s vigorous economic development effort at the Pioneer Street interchange. This gives Ridgefield a “right on the freeway” marketing edge over Battle Ground. PeaceHealth owns 75 acres along I-5, and sharing that site with Clark College is a possibility.

The advantages in landing a college satellite campus are numerous. Job growth and expansion of education and training programs could be significant, though unmeasured to date, but there’s no doubt that bringing higher education into the area presents a huge travel benefit for residents.

The ongoing economic slump has many private- and public-sector visionaries scratching their chins with what-if curiosity. We’re glad to see that kind of long-range thinking among leaders at Clark College, and in Battle Ground and Ridgefield.