The City's Pulse Newsletter

Is there some cahootin' goin' on?

It's not an easy subject. It's not a fun read. But it might be one of the most important issues facing Coeur d'Alene in the near future, and you're probably not aware of the subject or the impact it could have on our city and your wallet.

Bits and pieces of Educational Corridor info have been made public over the past years yet very few people know what's really happening. I still have lots of questions, even after talking, asking and reading as much as possible. So let's step through some of the basics:

The Educational Corridor would be an expansion of NIC's campus, north along the river to the old Osprey building near the city's wastewater treatment plant. The idea is to have one campus where people can get a 2 year degree at NIC and then go on to a local branch of either U of I, Lewis Clark State College, Boise State University or Idaho State U, to finish their education.

The politics of this thing is thick. Mayor Bloem and the CdA council have been focused on this issue for years. (It was actually started before Sandi's time by Steve Judy and Bill Panos) Our urban renewal agency, LCDC, is now the Mayor's key player in this project. CdA wants the Educational Corridor here, but Post Falls has tried very hard to get it over to their Riverbend Park. They've offered cheap land and all kinds of considerations to attract the schools. At the same time, there's a large piece of land earmarked for higher education out on the Prairie.

Way back in Steve Judy's reign as Mayor, the city of CdA invited the University of Idaho to use the Osprey building for $10. per year. Yes, that says ten dollars. The city had been using it for offices, so then had to lease and remodel another building on Sherman for the displaced city employees, at costs in excess of $6000/month ever since. There was also an active wastewater bond on the Osprey building, at that time, that the city had to continue to pay, to the tune of $25,000/month. (rate payers saw their bills go up because of this) The city thought it was worth all the cost to keep U of I here in town. U of I, on the other hand, took the $10. per year Osprey space, subdivided it, and rents about a quarter of it to Lewis-Clark State College for a significant amount of money each month. I'd say U of I is getting a good deal both ways.

Last year, the Idaho State Board of Education declined to support the Educational Corridor concept in CdA, and told the college presidents to remain neutral on the subject. Our Governor, Butch Otter, also spoke publicly against the idea and said it's not good to take prime land off the tax rolls.

The Educational Corridor idea was recently re-named "University Place". It's the name recommended by the state if there's more than one school together at a location. But it's a terrible name, and here's why: A few years ago there was a huge financial mess with a similar project down in Boise that was named University Place. It ended very badly with investigations, lawsuits and censures. The President of the University of Idaho resigned because of this enormous problem and the school and its foundation lost all kinds of money.

So now, Coeur d'Alene not only wants a comparable project and is using the same name but they are choosing many of the same questionable business and legal partners that were used in the U of I fiasco! It's amazing. But they're keeping all the details very hush-hush.

I told you in my newsletter two weeks ago, that LCDC is making plans for the DeArmond Mill, a key piece property for the corridor that will cost $10 million dollars. It is listed in LCDC's annual report as a priority and Mayor Bloem reported back in January of 2007 that LCDC had retained a consultant for development of the corridor. Yet last week, in an effort to refute my newsletter, Tony Berns, Exec. Director of LCDC was quoted in the CdA Press saying he had "no plan", "LCDC has no plan", he repeated, to buy the property. Now, just a week later, they are in the Press again, announcing their plan to plan to do exactly that! This kind of double talk scares me. It makes me think that, as one concerned citizen said to me, maybe there's some "cahootin' goin' on".

Why are the CdA Mayor and council pushing for this campus? They say it will bring good people into our city to teach at the schools. They talk frequently about the payroll at NIC and how we need more of those kinds of people living in our town to improve the economy.

But critics note that accessibility will be a problem if all the schools are in CdA. They say that NW Blvd and the Fort Grounds area is already congested and expansion will bring serious problems with parking, traffic and student housing. They're concerned that any buildings or parking structures will cost significantly more due to the problems with access and expensive real estate. They worry that taxpayers will have a far greater price tag if the schools are located here, rather than in Post Falls or on the Prairie.

Many years ago, about 23 to be exact, I worked as a Clinical Nursing Instructor for Spokane Community College. My students were mostly single moms, working part-time jobs to put food on the table as they attended school full-time to become nurses. Yet all the while they were parents, caring for their children, taking them to daycare or dropping them off at preschool. These students were very dedicated. They worked incredibly hard and every single minute of their day was busy.

So when I think of a campus for higher education, I wonder what would be best for the students. How easily will they get to the campus? Where will they park? Where will they live? Will daycare and grocery shopping be nearby?

Let's face it, the typical student will be scraping up enough money to go to NIC and continue at one of the branch colleges. Or they might be older folks in town trying to finish some college they had earlier in their lives. But most will be working and going to school at the same time, and often caring for a family as well. Cost and convenience will be essential issues for these students.

Think about which campus scenario will offer affordable, nearby housing for student-level families, easy access for chronically late and stressed adult students, free or cheap convenient parking and reasonable nearby services such as daycare, groceries and inexpensive dining? The Fort Grounds campus, with higher CdA rents, traffic back ups all the way to the freeway, limited parking and treacherous walking across busy NW Blvd, leaves a lot of concerns.

Then, please, think about taxpayers. Remember that no matter where the money comes from for any type of higher education campus, whether from city, county, state, LCDC or state schools--it all comes out of taxpayer pockets. There is no such thing as government money.

This subject has layer upon layer to discuss. So, Chapter 2 of this newsletter about the Educational Corridor / University Place, will be focused on the taxpayers as well as the types of education, academic and/or technical, the future expansion capabilities, basic safety concerns and much more. These higher education opportunities are for the entire northern part if our state. As one citizen observed, our local community college is not named "Coeur d'Alene Community College", it's for all of North Idaho. And so are the branches of our state schools. This is a regional issue. Let's keep that in mind. Mull it over, we'll talk again.