Ridgefield appears to have taken the lead in a race to house Clark College’s proposed north Clark County campus, thanks in part to support from a medical goliath that arrived in the county last year.
PeaceHealth, the $1 billion hospital medical chain that merged with Southwest Washington Medical Center and moved its headquarters from Bellevue to Vancouver, has spelled out a detailed proposal to establish a 90-acre Clark College campus. The site would train nurses that PeaceHealth could later hire, and would be part of a larger development of doctors’ offices, stores and restaurants.
It’s far from a done deal, with college leaders saying they have not made a final decision and Battle Ground officials say they still hope Clark College opts to build there instead. But with Clark College hoping to buy property by the end of the year, Ridgefield’s odds look increasingly good.
The college is being mum about where it wants to build, but its board of trustees has selected a preferred site for a north county satellite campus, and it has authorized its fundraising partner the Clark College Foundation to negotiate with property owners involved in the location.
Bob Williamson, vice president of administrative services for Clark College,
said that although the college has indicated a preferred site and authorized discussions with “multiple property owners,” the other four sites that made it onto a short list of possible locations are still in the running.
What is known, however, is that PeaceHealth the new corporate parent of Vancouver-based Southwest Washington Medical Center has talked to the college about how the two parties might use a 75-acre tract that PeaceHealth owns and that’s located just off Interstate 5 in Ridgefield.
PeaceHealth spelled out a detailed proposal involving seven partners that would establish a 90-acre Clark College satellite campus in Ridgefield north of its planned health care complex, according to documents obtained from the college by The Columbian through a state Open Records Act request.
Under the proposal made by Alan Yordy, president and chief mission officer of PeaceHealth, in an Oct. 3 letter to Rhona Sen Hoss, chairwoman of the Clark College Board of Trustees PeaceHealth would sell about 30 acres of its 75-acre tract to the college. That 30 acres “could be assembled with approximately 60 acres of land owned primarily by the Lang and Bloemke families to establish” the 90-acre campus, Yordy wrote.
PeaceHealth “is very excited about the possibilities that could be jointly developed, and strongly encourages Clark College to select this location in Ridgefield and will work with Clark College to create a full-service destination that includes educational and training facilities, health care services, and a vibrant retail/food services complex,” Yordy wrote.
Funded for 70,000 square feet
PeaceHealth’s involvement in Clark College’s plans underscores the significant ripple effect the sprawling health care organization has had since merging with Southwest Washington Medical Center (now named PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center) in December 2010.
With the county’s population likely to top 1 million by 2045, Clark College estimates it will need to add eight to 10 buildings in the next 35 years, according to documents released to The Columbian.
Williamson, the vice president of administrative services, said the college currently has access to $35 million in state funding approved through the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges to build one 70,000-square-foot building.
When the college’s board of trustees discussed the criteria for selecting a north or central Clark County site, it decided to seek a site of at least 70 acres, so it would have the flexibility to grow or sell off land as its needs evolved.
The Clark College Foundation, following the guidance of the board of trustees, takes the lead in acquiring land for the school, Williamson said.
By the end of this year, Williamson said, the college hopes to “have either entered or finalized negotiations with property owners” to secure a site for its planned satellite campus.
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.
Pros and cons
Clark College officials have toured 13 parcels of 40 to 75 acres in the north and central areas of Clark County since late 2007.
By June 2011, the college — in collaboration with LSW Architects, which has offices in Vancouver and Portland — had narrowed the list to five, after eliminating those that had major environmental and topographic constraints, limited road access and a developable area of less than 70 acres.
Three of those sites were in Ridgefield, one in Battle Ground and one in Vancouver.
For a time, the Battle Ground site was at the head of the pack.
Included in a June 14 Power Point presentation that LSW Architects presented to the Clark College Board of Trustees is a headline “Recommendation Battle Ground North” with an arrow pointing to a property north of the Battle Ground city limits.
Emails and documents suggest the college’s attention has shifted from the Battle Ground North property to properties in Ridgefield, however.
In a July 14 email to representatives of LSW Architects, Williamson — the college’s vice president of administrative services — said Bob Knight — the college’s president — “was impressed by the easy freeway access” to two properties in Ridgefield — a 65-acre site east of the freeway on Pioneer Street and a 50-acre parcel west of the freeway, directly opposite PeaceHealth’s east-of-the-interstate property. Williamson also cited PeaceHealth’s nearby property as a location that Knight might want to explore.
“Given Bob’s clear interest in the three Ridgefield properties and his expressed preference (for) a site right off the freeway, I was wondering if we wanted to revisit our North County recommendation before the July 26 Board meeting,” Williamson wrote in his July 14 email to LSW. “Do we want to stay with the site we identified? If so, how do we respond to what I’m sure will be questions about why we still favor a more inland site as opposed to a site with easy freeway access?”
When asked about the email, Williamson said the college has still not made a final decision, and that Battle Ground and other locations remain in contention to host Clark College’s north county campus.
Williamson said the board held an Oct. 26 executive session and at that point “indicated a preference without ruling out the other four (sites),” and that it authorized the Clark College Foundation to open discussions with property owners. He declined to say which site the board preferred.
Williamson emphasized the other properties remain in play, noting that picking a preferred site doesn’t necessarily guarantee a deal will go through.
Robert Maul, community development director for Battle Ground, said it’s his understanding that his city remains in contention for Clark College’s planned satellite campus.
“If we’ve been dismissed from consideration, I haven’t heard that,” he said.
Maul said it makes sense for the college to build in Battle Ground, which, among other strengths, is centrally located, bisected by two highways and has sewer capacity “which is something Ridgefield’s been struggling with.”
In September, Ridgefield City Manager Justin Clary responded to Williamson’s request for information with 18 pages worth of the city’s sewer, water and transportation infrastructure plans for sites Clark College is considering.
PeaceHealth’s 75-acre Ridgefield parcel and its potential connection to a planned Clark College satellite campus was the subject of a September meeting at the offices of Vancouver-based land use consulting firm BergerABAM, according to a letter PeaceHealth’s Yordy sent to Clark College.
At that meeting, Williamson, the college’s vice president of administrative services, discussed the college’s plans to acquire land for a new satellite campus with Larry Cohen, a planning executive for PeaceHealth, John White, vice president of BergerABAM and Read Stapleton, a senior planner for BergerABAM.
“As the conversation developed, it became clear to us that there is a unique opportunity and enormous potential that could develop from a Clark College, Port of Ridgefield, City of Ridgefield, Columbia River Economic Development Council, Seton High School, Retail Developer and PeaceHealth (7-way) collaboration,” Yordy wrote later, in a letter obtained through public records requests.
Plans for the Discovery Pointe Medical Center call for a “free-standing emergency department within a health care complex similar to the one we are building at NE 192nd Avenue and 1st Street in East Vancouver,” Yordy wrote.
PeaceHealth hopes to bring its Discovery Pointe medical complex to fruition within the next five to seven years.
Yordy went on to say that the Discovery Pointe site “could provide training opportunities, within a living lab/training environment, with a wide range of clinical and support services and possibly create simulation labs and other educational facilities through collaboration with the college.”
A Clark College campus in Ridgefield “would help drive the area’s housing demand, need for health care services, and catalyze the speed with which retail development would occur,” according to Yordy.
Ken Cole, a PeaceHealth spokesman, declined to discuss Yordy’s letter. He also said he did not want to get into any other specifics that would “second-guess” Clark College’s work.
“We’re definitely appreciative of the possibility and the opportunity and the potential here with Clark College,” Cole said, “and what this could mean for our community.”