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Thu., June 16, 2011

Editorial: CdA’s vision for higher ed corridor takes shape

Coeur d’Alene’s higher education corridor has been on the drawing board for more than a decade, and it will be another 30 years or more before the vision is substantially built out. So when shovels finally turned dirt last week, it was both a historic moment and a tribute to community leaders’ patience and determination.

Once students return to campus at North Idaho College next fall, there will be more to show for it than a few spadefuls of soil. By year’s end, new streets, curbs, sidewalks and signal lights will expand campus access while giving the venerable Fort Grounds neighborhood some relief from traffic nightmares on its narrow streets. Connectivity between downtown and the campus will grow more apparent.

The next step, bricks and mortar, may appear in two or three years in the form of an already-designed multiuse building that is the top capital construction priority for all three of the tenant institutions – NIC, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.

The idea of bringing a partnership of public institutions together in one higher education setting is an efficiency that will serve Idaho well as the state strives to improve on its unacceptable record for sending high school graduates on to postsecondary learning. The corridor, and the collaboration behind it, will enable Coeur d’Alene area students to enroll in the combinations of courses they need without having to travel to Moscow, Lewiston or Boise.

A study done three years ago estimated that the corridor would have an annual economic impact of $17.9 million by 2018 and $38.1 million by 2028. Those numbers are considered to be twice what could be expected if the site were developed for retail and commercial use.

That forecast was released just as the recession was beginning to batter the region, leaving the estimates subject to revision, but not the need.

As happens in sour economic times, demand rises for the marketable skills that education delivers. The expanded opportunity can’t come soon enough for students, and community leaders see it as a needed pillar to join tourism and health care in supporting the local economy that no longer can count on timber and mining.

But for all its adversity, the sluggish economy created a fortunate combination of work-hungry contractors and low interest rates.

The Lake City Development Corp., the urban renewal agency that’s funding the project, expected the initial phase to cost more than $5 million, but bids came in at $3.7 million.

Last week’s groundbreaking was more than symbolic. The civic leaders who fought through obstacles and resistance to make it happen are to be congratulated. Now they have to keep it up for another 30 years or so.

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