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Dots connect on Idaho education corridor

NIC Foundation’s land purchase opens space for schools to share

John Martin, vice president for community relations and marketing for North Idaho College, walks along the 17-acre site that the NIC Foundation recently purchased, land the school hopes  will become the backbone of  a long-awaited education corridor. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
John Martin, vice president for community relations and marketing for North Idaho College, walks along the 17-acre site that the NIC Foundation recently purchased, land the school hopes will become the backbone of a long-awaited education corridor. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

A college foundation’s recent purchase of 17 acres of land in downtown Coeur d’Alene has accelerated a process to create an expanded higher education campus shared by multiple schools.

On July 23, the North Idaho College Foundation bought the DeArmond stud mill, formerly owned by Stimson Lumber Co. It was the last waterfront mill in Coeur d’Alene when it closed in May 2008. The foundation leased the property to North Idaho College.

The land purchase brings into the public domain one of the final pieces of property necessary to connect about 110 acres stretching south from the U.S. Highway 95 bridge to Lake Coeur d’Alene. The land is west of Northwest Boulevard and east of the Spokane River.

The land is referred to as the education corridor. Civic and education leaders long have agreed to develop the property to expand higher education offerings to students in North Idaho. The partners include the city of Coeur d’Alene, its urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corp., NIC, the University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College, Boise State University and Idaho State University.

The partners say the land one day will be a campus shared by the five schools where they will collaborate on offerings to students, providing seamless transitions among degree programs. The proximity will allow for shared services, such as a student union and library, and the additional land will provide room to grow as enrollment expands. It will also create 700 more feet of public waterfront access on the Spokane River, adding to the 3,400 feet provided by the NIC beach.

“This purchase is an asset to public space for generations to come,” said Mayor Sandi Bloem. “Coeur d’Alene is as rich as it is because the generations ahead of us stepped out and took the risk to provide great public space. I don’t think we’ve even begun to dream … what that could be in the future.”

That dreaming will begin in earnest Aug. 11-13 during a design workshop on the education corridor to be conducted by some of the top professionals in their fields. Coeur d’Alene was one of four cities nationwide selected to receive design assistance by the team from the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“They will be here to actually see the site and bring their expertise to the community,” Bloem said. “It all just kind of came together at the same time.”

A conceptual master plan completed last year calls for Hubbard Avenue to be extended west into the 17-acre mill site, as an entrance to the college campus, and for River Avenue to be punched through to Northwest Boulevard as another point of access. Traffic signals were suggested for both. Also on the list of possibilities are a multiuse building to be shared among several colleges for office space and classrooms, and a student services building welcoming people as they enter the campus. Pedestrian pathways would snake throughout the property.

NIC wants to retain some of the property as green space, said John Martin, vice president for community relations and marketing. “We’re not going to fill every nook and cranny,” he said. “We pride ourselves on the campus being open and the waterfront being open.”

Another piece of the puzzle slowly falling into place could result in a dramatic change to the property within the next year, said Coeur d’Alene City Attorney Mike Gridley. BNSF Railway is in the process of abandoning its right of way along Northwest Boulevard. That land stretches along the eastern boundary of the education corridor and plans call for it to end up under the control of the city and the LCDC for commercial use that would support the education corridor.

“This is kind of dramatic, the turning of a page, really,” Gridley said of the removal of the tracks that run into downtown Coeur d’Alene, which he said could happen early next year. “The whole area is going to be kind of a clean slate. The community is going to have an opportunity to say, ‘Here’s what we’d like to see there.’ ”

The purchase of the 17 acres “allows us to start the planning for the mill site for the plans that we’ve agreed to in concept,” said Tony Berns, LCDC executive director. Though build-out will take years, Berns said traffic and engineering analyses should occur this year.

In addition, the University of Idaho has $420,000 set aside to plan for a new building that could be shared by the schools within the education corridor, said Larry Branen, associate vice president for UI/Northern Idaho. Now that the mill site has been purchased, he said, the colleges can work together to determine the best way to secure funding and use space in the future.

The UI in Coeur d’Alene has a lease in place until 2013 to use the city’s Harbor Center property, on the northern side of the education corridor, for offices and classrooms, Branen said. The plan is for UI and LCSC to remain there until at least 2013, he added.

“It would be optimistic to say we could have a new building by 2013,” Branen said. But developing the education corridor “really drew all of us together to look at what’s best for education. There’s this overarching goal to serve the community in a much better way than we ever have.”

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