Research Center Given Preliminary Approval But University Of Idaho Must Convince State Board Of Education That Post Falls Campus Won’t Become Financial Black Hole
Idaho Board of Education members like the idea of a University of Idaho research campus in Post Falls, but they’re not convinced the project pencils out.
“I don’t think you’ve done your homework,” Jerry Hess, a board member from Nampa who is in the construction business, told University of Idaho President Robert Hoover and former state Commerce Director Jim Hawkins.
Hess urged board members not to hastily approve a complicated deal the two helped put together to fund the project. “If you give carte blanche and the first step is the wrong step, … (later they’ll) come back and say, ‘Gee, we need another $50 million,”’ Hess said.
The university has not requested any money from the board for the Post Falls center. Instead, it plans to accept a gift of land from the Jacklin Land Co. to the University of Idaho Foundation. The foundation then would construct a building on the land by using the land as collateral.
The foundation would let the university use part of the building rent-free and would rent out the rest.
Hoover said the university would transfer employees from its current Coeur d’Alene center and from Moscow to staff the center, which would offer postgraduate degrees and conduct research oriented toward serving North Idaho’s major industries: timber, mining, tourism and recreation, construction, high tech and environmental technology.
Private companies also would construct their own buildings at the center, which now is being called the Riverbend Research and Training Park. It would be located roughly behind the Post Falls Factory Outlets, fronting the Spokane River.
Judith C. Meyer, a board member from Hayden Lake who also is in the construction business, said, “When they came to us before, it was a dream. Our job now is to make sure it doesn’t become a nightmare.”
Meyer and others on the board said they strongly support the idea of the Post Falls project, but want to make sure it’s done correctly.
The University of Idaho could get “a tremendous income stream” from the project if it’s set up right, Hess said. But if it’s not, someone else could get the profits.
“I wouldn’t approve this in my own business,” Hess said. “How could I for the public?”
Meyer, who sent Hoover a two-page memo on Sunday detailing her concerns, agreed with Hess. But she said, “It is still too exciting a project not to have a way to go forward.”
At Hess’ urging, the board endorsed the idea of the center, and allowed Hoover to hire a manager to help get the project moving. Board members withheld further approval until March, by which time they want more information.
Hoover, who had asked the board to also approve the university’s partnership with Jacklin, its plan to use money from its existing budget to manage the Post Falls center, and the role of the UI Foundation, said afterward he wasn’t discouraged.
The foundation’s board won’t meet to approve the project until April anyway, he said. By then, he hopes to have full board approval.
Hawkins, who has served on the foundation’s board, said that group will do extensive financial analysis before it agrees to the deal.
“The foundation is experienced at managing properties,” Hawkins said.
If Hoover and Hawkins can satisfy the board by March, the research campus could be up and running within a year to 18 months, they said.
North Idaho College and Washington State University also are partners in the project, which Hoover presented as a way to make the region more competitive economically and to serve its future higher education needs. NIC President Bob Bennett said the research and training center would complement NIC’s Workforce Training Center, which already is located next door at Riverbend.
NIC, UI and Lewis-Clark State College all offer courses in Coeur d’Alene.
“There’s a real effort to work together on the part of these three institutions,” Bennett said. “I’m hoping this will just strengthen it.”
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