Eastern Washington University is preparing to vacate its main building on the downtown Spokane campus, significantly altering a long-term arrangement with Washington State University and moving programs into a new building along East Sprague Avenue.
The move follows discussions about a lease agreement between the two state institutions. Leaders at both schools say they will continue working together, but there are still many details to be worked out, and it’s unclear how much EWU will pay WSU to continue using other spaces on campus.
WSU owns and maintains the 48-acre Health Sciences Spokane campus, formerly called the Riverpoint campus. But for decades it has shared space with EWU and other universities, collaborating in various academic areas.
EWU currently pays WSU about $1.1 million a year and uses roughly 165,000 square feet of space across the campus, mostly in a WSU-owned building called the EWU Center at the corner of Sherman Street and Riverpoint Boulevard. That works out to less than $7 per square foot.
After completing cost analyses for each building on campus last year, WSU officials asked EWU to renegotiate its lease agreement. WSU pays for heating, cooling, IT support, maintenance and janitorial services on the Spokane campus, and handles scheduling for EWU’s classes there.
WSU spokeswoman Kim Papich said EWU would have to pay about twice what it currently pays to cover WSU’s expenses for the spaces that EWU uses.
Instead, EWU President Mary Cullinan recently gave notice that the school will vacate the EWU Center, which currently houses EWU’s College of Business, among other departments.
That decision came as a surprise to WSU officials. But in an interview Monday, WSU Spokane Chancellor Daryll DeWald said it may be a good thing for the university.
As WSU and EWU have grown together on the campus, WSU has rented some space off-campus. With EWU out of the EWU Center, WSU will be able to rent less space and move more operations into a building it owns.
“It helps solve a couple of challenges that we have right now because we’ve grown beyond the footprint of our campus,” DeWald said. “So it allows us to reconsider how we might have our programs in that building.”
WSU officials still are seeking clarity from EWU about its timeline for vacating the building. DeWald said it could happen by the end of 2021.
“We’re still trying to work out how much and when they would move over,” he said. “We don’t know if they will be able to move over all of their programs.”
EWU already had been planning to move three degree programs, dozens of faculty members and about 1,000 students into the Catalyst Building – a five-story, $60 million, 159,000-square-foot project that remains under construction on the south side of the University District Gateway Bridge, opposite the Riverpoint campus.
The Catalyst Building, developed by McKinstry and funded by a subsidiary of Avista Corp., also will be home to Katerra, a California-based wood products company that has a factory in Spokane Valley. Avista and McKinstry are giving EWU a $5 million discount over the first 10 years of its lease. The building is expected to open this fall.
“It is expected that the Catalyst Building will be turned (over) to Eastern Washington University in August so they can move in, with classes anticipated to begin in late September,” Avista spokeswoman Casey Fielder said in an email.
EWU now plans to move at least four programs to the Catalyst Building, three of which – computer science, electrical engineering and visual design – are currently taught in Cheney. EWU is developing the curriculum for the fourth program, computer engineering.
And when EWU vacates the EWU Center, it might move the College of Business to the Catalyst Building, too, said Dave Meany, a university spokesman.
Those changes would come as EWU restructures all of its colleges and departments in an effort to close a $3.5 million budget shortfall.
In an interview Monday, Cullinan said there will be “ample space” in the Catalyst Building and no programs will have to be shrunk or eliminated as a result of the move.
Cullinan said EWU has no plans to relocate programs from WSU’s Health Sciences Building, including programs in dental hygiene, physical and occupational therapy, and speech and hearing disorders.
“The places where Eastern and WSU collaborate are in the health sciences,” Cullinan said. “Those partnerships are continuing, and that’s why it does make sense to have the health sciences working together on that campus.”
Cullinan indicated EWU might continue paying WSU for space it occupies on the Spokane campus. If that happens, she said, she hopes the amount will be lower.
“It’s a lot less space,” she said. “But I don’t have any details. We’re going to do a walk-through in a few weeks. We’ve heard nothing from WSU. I mean, all of this is speculative.”
She added, “I think that Eastern and WSU are working together really well to use state money very effectively and conscientiously, and we are also looking at public-private partnerships that will also be of tremendous benefit to our respective universities, but also to the city of Spokane.”