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Fields of dreams: CWI revives big plans for Boise River, Canyon County campuses

Long dormant plans to develop a pair of campuses for the College of Western Idaho are back in play.

Last month, CWI’s board of trustees approved a new Campus Visioning plan that would build out two locations – one in Canyon County along Idaho Center Blvd. in Nampa, and the other on the Boise River on Main St. in Boise. The project would consolidate most of CWI’s facilities around the valley into two locations.

New CWI President Gordon Jones told BoiseDev during a taping of our podcast Monday that the board’s drive for permanent campuses – instead of rented spaces across the valley – was built on several factors.

“We needed a more coordinated strategy,” Jones said. “We all recognize the increasing cost of leased space and rental space. We recognized congregated learning – having a more thematic campus strategy – is where we need to go, and it’s a natural evolution.”

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He said that even though the dynamics of learning are changing – and more students are taking classes online, a physical footprint is important — and they are working to catch up from the first 13 years without much in the way of owned classroom space – and an enrollment that is nearing 30,000 students.

“We are equally committed to in-person learning,” he said. “We have to catch up to the growth we’ve already received. This is about digesting and creating the conditions to serve the numbers we already have, with some capacity for growth.”

CWI said the projects would be funded through dollars from the State of Idaho’s Permanent Building Fund, donor funding, Certificate of Participation funding, and its own development fund.

Boise campus

The idea to build a campus along the Boise River on the edge of Downtown Boise has been gestating for the better part of the last decade. The college owns a high-profile 10.3-acre site, which has sat mostly empty since a former car dealer moved to Fairview Ave. in 2003.

In 2015, the community college purchased the former Bob Rice Ford car dealership land from the Rice Family Trust. The land, which had an assessed value of $3.6 million, was purchased for $8.8 million – raising questions about the purchase at the time. It is likely the value of the property has risen, though it is no longer assessed because tax isn’t collected on publicly-owned properties. The site is unique due to its location along the river and on a major transit corridor, so finding a similar property for comparison is imprecise. However, the neighboring property for the Whitewater Park Apartments has seen the value of its land increase by 149% from 2015 to 2021. If the same math were applied to the CWI site, its value today would sit at $5.3 million.

CWI Boise 2016 rendering
A rendering released in 2016 of a vision for the College of Western Idaho Boise campus. Via CWI

In 2016, the school released a conceptual plan for the site, and ran a $180 million bond request that year, which did not meet the 2/3rds majority needed to pass. In 2017, Boise’s then-Mayor Dave Bieter raised the idea of trading the site for a baseball stadium – even though CWI was not on board with the idea before it was announced.

Talk of campus expansion mostly stopped.

Now, the school hopes to attract a private developer to form a partnership for the site, with some type of mixed-use development, with CWI as the anchor.

“It is a stunning and beautiful piece of property,” Jones said. “We fully believe in the Boise presence and the representation in Ada County that property represents. It’s very important to us and we are very excited about joining a dynamic growth of a city.”

Jones said the school didn’t want to prescribe what types of use beyond education it would like to see.

“We want to step out and invite our developer community to come alongside this effort in doing a public-private partnership, where developers, we hope, see our vision and the beauty of that property and what could be to satisfy the learning needs we have and marry with their creativity about what could be,” he said.

The site would become CWI’s hub for cyber-security, business, and technology programs. Jones aid the school will launch a more formal request for proposals process in the second half of the year — and said they hope to move quickly. He said the Capital City Development Corp., which operates an urban renewal area that includes the CWI site, could also play a role. Jones served as a CCDC commissioner until earlier this year.

Nampa campus

In Nampa, CWI owns a large piece of ground it acquired from Boise State University when the community college was founded in 2007. The site at the corner of Cherry Ln. and Idaho Center Blvd. was once viewed as a west campus for Boise State but transitioned to CWI instead.

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Now, with state approval, the campus will start to rumble to life. It currently includes an academic building, but is mostly a sea of empty fields and parking. That will start to change.

CWI Nampa Campus Academic Building. Via CWI

“The state is putting in money for a health science building and horticulture facility. The financing plan is in place, and we have a desire to invite some of our community partners to invest with us,” Jones said. “We have the plans and the confidence of things. Outside of a black swan event, we will be moving as quickly as we can.”

The school’s master plan shows a horticulture and agriculture campus along Cherry Ln. Agriculture is the largest component of Idaho’s economy, contributing about 18% of Idaho’s GDP.

A new health sciences building is targeted for the center of the campus area, as well as a future student learning center. These two buildings would pair with the existing academic building and start to form a central campus quad.

“We are designing for an attractive campus and one that is incremental,” Jones said. “My main responsibility is to make the first moves to make what will hopefully be decades of smart moves.”

You can listen to our podcast with Jones by clicking here, or searching BoiseDev on Apple, Google, Spotify or the Listen Boise app, or below.

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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