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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

EWU pursues leaving downtown

Eastern Washington University is moving forward with plans to try to sell its downtown building and move to the Riverpoint campus.

The long-anticipated move would almost double the number of students on that campus, fueling efforts to develop a university district in the midst of Spokane, officials with EWU and Washington State University said.

“If we are to grow the campus and grow the university district, the more rapidly we can populate the campus with students and faculty the better,” said Brian Pitcher, chancellor of WSU-Spokane, which has seen its enrollments grow rapidly in recent years.

More than 1,500 students enrolled at WSU-Spokane this fall. About 1,000 students a year attend classes at EWU’s downtown center, a five-story structure at Howard Street and First Avenue.

That building – which houses programs in journalism, creative writing, social work and other disciplines – needs about $1 million in maintenance right now, said Jeff Gombosky, EWU’s director of government relations. So the school’s board of trustees voted last week to have the administration explore the possibility of selling the building and using the proceeds for a move to Riverpoint, a campus tucked between East Spokane Falls Boulevard and the Spokane River near Gonzaga University.

A lot of questions remain, including when such a move could take place.

The EWU downtown center’s value is estimated at $4 million to $4.5 million, Gombosky said.

EWU will ask the Legislature in the coming session for permission to sell the building and use the proceeds directly for a move to Riverpoint. Some officials thought the state might require the deals be done separately, which would take longer and leave EWU in the uncertain position of selling one building while waiting for formal funding for its replacement.

Efforts to reach interim EWU President Brian Levin-Stankevich and other administrators Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.

The idea of such a move has been in the works for several years. In 1998, the Legislature gave EWU two directives: focus on developing the Cheney campus, and consolidate Spokane programs at Riverpoint. Over the seven-year tenure of former President Stephen Jordan, expansion and construction of the Cheney campus was the main priority.

For years, a university district with school, business and housing all in a neighborhood setting has been a long-range goal of Spokane civic leaders.

WSU’s presence at the campus has grown in recent years, with the new health sciences building opening two years ago and a new academic center set to open next summer. In 2004, WSU and EWU formed a collaborative board to oversee the campus.

The addition of more students and faculty might help achieve other objectives of the site-development plan, such as business- and housing-related investment in the area.

A lot of details are still unclear, including whether EWU would build a new facility or use an existing one, and whether any programs would be moved to Cheney.

A task force formed last year recommended keeping almost all of the programs now at the downtown center in Spokane at a Riverpoint location.

“It obviously creates a critical mass for the further development of the university district,” Gombosky said.