Clark College officials continue to eye several properties in North Clark County for a possible satellite campus, enticing Battle Ground and Ridgefield area officials to engage in a friendly rivalry to win over the college.
Both cities agree the satellite campus would provide much needed educational opportunities while providing a boost to the area’s economy. However, the neighborly cities are in a benevolent dispute over which offers a more attractive site.
For Ridgefield, closer access to I-5 allows them to serve a larger population base, according to an Aug. 24 letter signed by Port of Ridgefield Executive Director Brent Grening, City of Ridgefield City Manager Justice Clary and Ridgefield School Superintendent Art Edgerly.
“One of the greatest benefits of a Clark College campus located in proximity to the Ridgefield I-5 interchange is the convenience and accessibility to students from all over the populated portions of northern Clark County,” the documents included with the letter state.
Using “non-peak hour traffic data” the Ridgefield coalition estimates a Ridgefield area satellite campus would serve 692,087 people within a 25-minute drive, compared to 405,985 for a Battle Ground area campus. A sizable, but unspecified, portion of the estimate is North and East Portland residents who would have to cross either the I-5 or I-205 Bridge to reach Ridgefield.
Ridgefield’s estimate does not address travel times during rush hour when the vast majority of students traditionally commute to class. Battle Ground Community Development Director Robert Maul believes travel time estimates don’t give either city an advantage.
“You have similar travel times for Ridgefield and Battle Ground,” he said.
What makes Battle Ground a more appealing location is its status as a “full service city” located in the “heart of Clark County,” according to Maul.
“All of north and east county residents funnel through Battle Ground daily and we have every amenity to meet student needs,” Maul said.
Clark College has considered expanding into North Clark County since 2009 after opening the Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver, according to Clark College Director of Communications Barbara Kerr.
“When (the Columbia Tech Center) successfully opened, the college’s focus turned to northern-central Clark County – another area of population growth and projected growth,” Kerr stated via email.
According to Kerr, economic factors and planning requirements mean it will be years before construction would start for the proposed satellite campus.
“We currently believe that it may be 8-10 years before ground could be broken on the project,” she stated.
The same economic challenges that may delay construction of a satellite campus are currently inflicting severe financial hardship on the college. After years of decreasing state funding, the college received $31.3 million in general education funding for the 2007-08 academic year. For the current school year, state funding was down to $24.6 million and state proposed cuts would remove another $3 million from the college’s budget for next year. When asked why the college is considering expanding in the face of steep budget cuts, Kerr pointed out the college was founded in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression and has strived to meet the ever increasing educational needs of the area, even during tough economic times.
“As our region grows, the demand for higher education will grow. In good budget times and bad, Clark College is committed to staying focused on meeting those needs. That means making difficult budget decisions today while still looking long-term and planning for the future,” Kerr stated.
According to enrollment information provided by Kerr, 3,802 current Clark College students are from zip codes associated with north and central Clark County. The number of students from the area support expansion, according to Kerr.
“When you consider that our current headcount at Clark College at Columbia Tech Center is 2,092, the (number of students in north or central Clark County) indicate why the college is exploring the construction of a new facility in northern/central Clark County,” Kerr stated.
For Battle Ground resident and Clark College student, Stacey White, 24, a satellite campus in the area appeals to her desire to sleep in.
“I wouldn’t have to get up as early to get to classes on time,” she said.
In contrast to White’s time management concerns, Battle Ground High School senior Alexa Jackson, 18, believes the courses offered, not location, will determine enrollment.
“It’s not the location at all, it’s the courses offered that attracts people to a college,” she said.
Jackson has no doubt which area, Ridgefield or Battle Ground, the college should select.
“Battle Ground is definitely the better choice,” she said.
Previous statements by PeaceHealth, the parent corporation of Southwest Washington Medical Center, indicate the health care giant is willing to enter a partnership with Clark College at a satellite campus to train health care workers. However, PeaceHealth staff stated the organization is not prepared to make a statement at this time.
The college declined to comment on specific details regarding possible real estate transactions related to the satellite campus. According to Kerr, Clark College Board of Trustee discussions on real estate transactions will likely take place during Executive Sessions closed to the public, as permitted by state law.