OLYMPIA – Eastern Washington colleges will see a boost in state funding for projects over the next two years if proposed capital budget plans pass the Legislature.
Current two-year proposals – which fund many construction projects across the state – set aside a large portion for higher education facilities, including Spokane Falls Community College, Washington State University and Eastern Washington University.
During a floor debate, Senate lead capital budget writer David Frockt, D-Seattle, said the chamber’s proposed budget builds out higher education projects across the state, “many of which are designed specifically to help train our young people for the jobs of the future.”
The House and Senate two-year capital budget proposals look slightly different, but both would allocate between $5 billion and $6 billion for projects across the state. Along with higher education investments, the plans prioritize increasing broadband, funding affordable housing and renovating fish hatcheries.
For higher education, the Senate’s proposed plans include $963 million for four-year institutions and $551 million for community and technical colleges. The House’s plan spends slightly less but prioritizes many of the same projects.
One of the largest projects for community and technical colleges is at Spokane Falls Community College, which would get $19.3 million for a new fine arts building. The project has been discussed since 2019, said Clinton Brown, Community Colleges of Spokane director of capital construction. This is the first time it will be fully funded.
The new 60,000 square foot building would be built on the northwest edge of campus overlooking the bluff and would combine the fine arts and photography buildings into one.
The current buildings were not designed for the programs they currently house, according to the college.
“Since the inception of the project idea, the program has really grown even more,” Brown said.
The new building will contain classrooms, labs, offices, exhibition space, studios, dark rooms and specialty storage areas, Brown said. It will also have an art gallery and photo gallery in the lobby.
It will have all-new state-of-the-art equipment that these programs have long deserved, Brown said.
The college is the only one in the state that offers an associate degree in fine arts, college spokesperson Carolyn Casey said in an email.
It’s estimated the project will be done by 2023.
Washington State University is also getting funding.
In the Senate’s proposal, the university would receive $135.8 million. The House would spend slightly less for the university, giving about $117.8 million. The three biggest projects are the demolition of an old building to make room for a new research facility in Pullman, construction of a life sciences building in Vancouver and renovating a research building in Spokane.
To demolish Johnson Hall on the Pullman campus, the university requested $8 million. The project would demolish the building, which the university says costs $1 million in maintenance backlogs. It will be replaced with a research facility for plant biosciences, which has already received federal funding.
In Spokane, the university is looking to renovate a health sciences building previously occupied by Eastern Washington University. It would cost $15 million and provide a space for all three of the health science colleges to do research.
The biggest project the state would fund is the $52.6 million construction of a life sciences facility in Vancouver. It would create an instruction and research facility for students in STEM disciplines.
Eastern Washington University would also get some state funding with these proposals, up to $67.2 million if the Senate’s budget passes. Most of that – $45 million – would go toward renovations of the campus’ science building.
The proposed capital budgets also look to spend $490 million to expand broadband access statewide, $315 million for affordable housing projects, and $20.4 million for renovating fishing hatcheries, including $2.8 million to renovate Spokane’s fish hatchery.
Both the House and the Senate capital budgets passed this week. Budget teams now have to negotiate one plan to pass in the Legislature by April 25.
Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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