A former north Clark County dairy farm will finally make a transition from producing milk to minting college graduates, as officials broke ground on Clark College at Boschma Farms on June 1.
At an event at the site in Ridgefield to the east of Interstate 5, dozens gathered to celebrate the milestone of turned earth at the site of the first building of the college’s satellite campus.
“Although we may only be standing in a humble farm field today, we acknowledge the many pathways to success this new campus and its state-of-the-art technology will offer Southwest Washington, and particularly, north Clark County residents and businesses,” Clark College President Karin Edwards said.
The 61,000-square-foot building is dubbed the Advanced Manufacturing Center and will be the location for classes in robotics, clean energy, manufacturing and material sciences, Clark College Board of Trustees Vice-chair Paul Speer said. Apart from those classes, it will also feature space for community events.
Construction of the building is expected to start in late spring 2023 with a completion in late 2024 or early 2025, a release from the college stated. Speer anticipates about 200 students will be enrolled in classes at the new building when it opens.
With continued growth in the region, Speer said the Boschma Farms campus “is well-positioned to be not only a local, but a state resource in leading in future technologies.”
“This is truly a project that’s going to have wide-reaching, longstanding positive impacts on our community,” Speer said.
Outgoing Clark College Foundation CEO Lisa Gibert said it has taken a long time and a lot of hard work to get to where the college is with the project. Gibert said Clark College began its plans to expand its service area, particularly into north Clark County, around 2008.
“We all knew that the north region was growing tremendously,” she said.
In 2014, Hank and Bernice Boschma sold the 59-acre site on which the campus will sit. Gibert said Hank was an integral part of seeing the vision of a north county campus.
“Hank, I hope you are smiling upon us today,” Gibert said.
Hank died in 2017. His wife said they had met in The Netherlands, and she eventually immigrated to the United States 61 years to the date of the groundbreaking.
The Boschmas moved to Ridgefield in 1965, and Hank became a U.S. citizen at Clark College in 1967, with Bernice following him several years later, she said.
“I think if he (could) see this out, he would’ve been in awe,” Bernice said.
Gibert pointed to the history of the site, both in its prior use as farmland and its connection to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, many of whom were present for the groundbreaking.
Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, the recently sworn-in general council chair for the tribe, said the area where the campus will be built is called “Chelatchie” in the tribe’s language. Kinswa-Gaiser succeeded former chairman David Barnett, who died unexpectedly on May 28.
“I had promised I would carry on his vision,” Kinswa-Gaiser said.
Ridgefield Mayor Jennifer Lindsay said the campus will provide Ridgefield High School students with closer access to Clark College’s Running Start program.
“This has been a dream of ours for over a decade,” Lindsay said.
As she acknowledged that bringing the college to the city was an effort with support from local governments, she also thanked lawmakers in Washington’s 18th Legislative District, who over the years represented the city and helped secure millions in funding for the project.
Lindsay also thanked state Sen. Annette Cleveland, R-Vancouver, who although represents that city as senator for the 49th district, advocated for the north Clark County campus.
“There are many, many competing interests in Olympia. You can never assume that funding for a project is a sure thing until that ink is dry on the budget at the final day of session,” Cleveland said.
The campus was able to secure more than $53 million in state funding in Washington’s 2021-2023 capital budget. The campus also received $1.5 million in federal funding for advanced manufacturing equipment, the release stated.
Cleveland, a 1987 graduate of the college, reflected on how her time at the college allowed her to pursue a career in public service.
“When I think of Clark College, what it represents to me is community. It represents hope. It represents opportunity,” Cleveland said.
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