Battle Ground, Ridgefield vie for Clark College satellite campus

North Clark County branch would boost job growth, city leaders say

By Aaron Corvin and Cami Joner

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Clark College leaders want to build a satellite campus in north Clark County, spurring Ridgefield and Battle Ground officials to attempt to woo the Vancouver-based community college. Both communities say that it would anchor north Clark County’s economy, boosting job growth, and adding education and training programs.

Leaders of both cities have sent letters encouraging Clark College officials to expand the community college’s offerings to their towns.

Barbara Kerr, a spokeswoman for Clark College, declined to comment on the details of any real estate discussions. Under state open meetings law, she said, the college’s Board of Trustees is allowed to discuss some matters privately, including certain real estate issues.

Kerr said the college is exploring building another facility in north or central Clark County for the same reason it developed an east Vancouver campus in the Columbia Tech Center complex: population growth.

Based on the state government’s financial outlook, Kerr said, the college believes it could take up to 10 years before ground could be broken.

But local municipal leaders are not waiting.

The campus would be a “tremendous asset to the Ridgefield community,” according to a letter sent to the college’s Board of Trustees from the Port of Ridgfield, the

city of Ridgefield and the Ridgefield School District.

Robert Maul, community development director for the city of Battle Ground, said Tuesday that 48 acres slated to be included in the city’s urban growth area is on a list of five sites the college is considering for a north county campus.

Maul said he doesn’t know which other sites the college is reviewing. The Battle Ground tract that’s in play is on the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Northeast 249th Street and Dublin Road, north of the city.

PeaceHealth link?

Another possible location is a 75-acre parcel just off Interstate 5 in Ridgefield that was acquired by PeaceHealth when it became the parent corporation of Southwest Washington Medical Center. Plans call for the site to be developed as Discovery Pointe, a collection of medical offices and other commercial development.

Brent Grening, executive director of the Port of Ridgefield, said the 75 acres would make a good home for both a Clark College campus and a PeaceHealth facility. “I don’t want to be too speculative here, but it makes sense,” he said.

PeaceHealth spokesman Brien Lautman said Tuesday he was not prepared to comment on the nonprofit’s plans for the site.

PeaceHealth officials have said in the past that they want to work with Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver to develop training programs for health care workers with the idea that they could go on to find jobs in the region.

According to its website, Clark College has the largest associate degree nursing program in Washington state. The college offers courses for entry-level nurses who are practicing clinical care in most of the major hospitals in the Portland-Vancouver area.

Leaders in Ridgefield and Battle Ground said a college expansion in their towns would benefit the region as a whole no matter which site is selected. However, each said their community would be the better fit for Clark College.

While he called it a “friendly competition” between the neighboring cities, Maul said Battle Ground “is truly the heart of the county,” bisected by state Highways 502 and 503. By contrast, he said, Ridgefield has struggled to bring sewer capacity to serve development at the city’s junction with Interstate 5.

Ridgefield City Manager Justin Clary countered that land along the city’s junction with Interstate 5 would be more advantageous in the long term. The Ridgefield area’s proximity to I-5 adds convenience and accessibility for a wider swath of the region’s population, said Roger Qualman, chief operating officer of NAI Norris, Beggs & Simpson, a commercial real estate firm in Vancouver.

“It’s right off the freeway where you can capture customers all the way up to Longview and all the way south to Portland,” he said.

In January, Clark College President Bob Knight said in a State of the College address that the college’s aspirations include development of a campus — similar to Clark College at Columbia Tech Center — in northern or central Clark County.

The $30 million state-funded east Vancouver campus opened in 2010. Its 70,000-square-foot building has 27 classrooms and labs, a conference area, faculty offices and parking for 700 vehicles.

It’s unclear how the college would finance construction of a similar facility in north or central Clark County. State government’s massive budget deficit has already delayed construction of the college’s planned $36 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics building, originally slated to break ground this year at the school’s main Fort Vancouver Way campus. Its start date has been pushed back to 2015, said Kerr, the college’s spokeswoman.

That hasn’t prevented regional leaders from speculating on what a north or central Clark College campus would mean for the county’s economy.

In addition to offering two-year academic degrees, Clark College is a vocational school that offers everything from welding and diesel mechanics to dental hygiene and early childhood education degrees.

How big of a boost?

Clary, the Ridgefield city manager, said that in addition to bringing education and training to north Clark County the college could partner with industrial companies that are headquartered near the city’s junction with I-5, such as Pacific Power Products, which services diesel engines.

However, Vancouver-based retail expert Deborah Ewing said the college’s expansion by itself would not likely spark other development. “I wouldn’t see it as an anchor for something else to happen around it,” she said. “I suppose it could bring a small restaurant or deli.”

The issue of where Clark College will build the satellite campus comes as the region’s economy remains weak. Clark County employers have added a net 800 jobs in the past 12 months, a small climb that likely left October’s jobless rate at 11.4 percent, according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department.

Nevertheless, a Clark College campus could play a strong role in turning the economy around. And the region’s leaders need to pull together to help make it happen, no matter where the satellite campus lands, said Maul, Battle Ground’s community development director.

“If we’re all going to pull out of this, we’ve got to do it together,” he said.

Cami Joner: http://twitter.com/#!/camijoner; 360-735-4532; cami.joner@columbian.com

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com

Editor's note: This story has been modified to reflect a correction. The 48-acre Battle Ground site being considered is situated north of the city.