College narrows in on new site for campus

Clark says it's ready to talk about buying land in the Ridgefield area

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter




■ Previously: Clark College has been searching for a site for a north county campus since 2011, to supplement classroom space at its main campus at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way and its satellite campuses at the Columbia Tech Center and at the Salmon Creek campus of Washington State University Vancouver.

■ What’s new: Clark College President Bob Knight said recently that school officials have narrowed the selection to one Ridgefield site.

■ What’s next: The school’s fundraiser, the Clark College Foundation, expects to purchase the site, triggering design work with a goal of construction by 2020.

photoBob Knight Clark College president


Clark College has zeroed in on a Ridgefield site for its future north-county campus, but does not expect to reveal the location for another month or two.

The negotiations could take a while as the college deals with multiple people who own portions of the 50- to 70-acre site, said Bob Knight, president of Clark College.

The school has been searching for property since late 2011. It wants to develop a four-building campus for the county's northern-most population, with programs in the health care field and some general education courses.

The first building could open by 2020 to relieve the demand on Clark's main Vancouver campus at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way.

The future north county facility also would serve students in the Running Start program, which allows high school students to earn college credit.

"Our Ridgefield and Battle Ground (Running Start) students will be able to be out there" at the north county campus, Knight said.

About a year ago, college officials had narrowed the north county campus site search to five potential locations in the Ridgefield area, all near the town's junction with Interstate 5, and one site in Battle Ground that has not officially been taken off the table.

Now Knight has ruled out at least one Ridgefield site that had been in the running: the 75-acre Discovery Pointe Medical Center, owned by PeaceHealth. The health care giant had offered to sell about 30 acres to the college and proposed a mixed-use development that would blend college, medical and retail space on the northeastern quadrant of the Interstate 5 junction.

"We've moved away from that," Knight said. "We're still partners with PeaceHealth, but not in a land deal."

Knight and his staff are responsible for making a recommendation to the college's Board of Trustees, which will OK the purchase. The college's fundraising arm, the Clark College Foundation, will act as the purchaser. Land near the Ridgefield junction could sell for between $87,000 and $348,500 per acre, according to real estate experts.

After buying the property, the college can start the decadelong process of opening the facility, Knight said.

"We don't anticipate building it until the end of the decade," he said.

State legislation has already authorized $38.48 million for the project's design and construction, although no state money has been issued for property acquisition.

The legislature would fund the project over six years, Knight said.

He said the state expects Clark's enrollment will continue to grow despite a recent decline in full-time students, including this year's winter quarter when an enrollment of 13,237 students represented a 7.2 percent decline from 14,187 students enrolled a year earlier.

Meanwhile, enrollment in Running Start has grown from fewer than 1,000 students five years ago to nearly 1,450 students, 17 percent of Clark's full-time students, according to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

In addition to its central campus, Clark College operates two satellite sites — Clark Center, which opened in 2006 on Washington State University Vancouver's Salmon Creek campus, and an east Vancouver location at Columbia Tech Center, which opened in 2009.

With the PeaceHealth site off the table, college officials might be more seriously considering a tract on the east side of the interchange being marketed by Barry Cain of Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development. The tract, just east of the 65th Avenue roundabout, is made up of at least eight parcels that add up to more than 157 acres, much of it a former farm homestead owned by Boschma Family LLC, according to county property records. Gramor controls at least one 10-acre parcel that's part of the larger tract. At least three parcels that add up to more than 40 acres are owned by a bank REO (real estate owned) department in Irvine, Calif., an indication that the tracts are in bank foreclosure.

The site, to the east of the Tri-Mountain RV Park and retail center, could be enticing to the college because of its visibility and because it is already served by infrastructure, such as water, sewer and road services, said Eric Fuller, president of Eric Fuller & Associates Inc. commercial real estate firm in Vancouver.

"It would be a front-door site," Fuller said. "All of the others involved (building) infrastructure."

College officials also briefly considered, then rejected the Tri-Mountain Golf Course, north of the Ridgefield junction. The 132-acre golf course midway between Ridgefield and La Center contains numerous wetlands and also presented accessibility challenges.

Expensive infrastructure also could have been an issue in Battle Ground, which pitched its best site as a 48-acre property earmarked for addition to the city's urban growth area north of the downtown core.

The college still hasn't ruled out the Battle Ground site, and probably won't until it signs a final agreement to purchase the Ridgefield tract, Knight said.

"We have a general agreement with the owners, but we haven't signed a document," he said.