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UI will lease former Concordia campus for law school; BSU looked, too

The Idaho Press

The University of Idaho College of Law is buying the defunct downtown campus of Concordia Law School and will relocate its Boise law school programs there, consolidating them in one place.

The move, approved unanimously Monday by the state Board of Education, will allow the UI’s Boise law school enrollment to grow from roughly 60 students per year of the three-year law school program to 90. The UI already absorbed 110 former Concordia students who transferred to the UI in August 2020 after the Concordia program abruptly ended. It was the largest-ever transfer of students for a western law school.

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“Even in our entering class this year, so not even including any of the Concordia students, we’re sort of bursting at the seams,” said Johanna Kalb, dean of the UI College of Law “We have to turn qualified students away in Boise, because we just don’t have enough space to accommodate them.”

Currently, 251 students are enrolled for the fall semester of the UI’s law school in Boise, including 61 Concordia transfer students who will graduate next year.

University of Idaho President C. Scott Green told the state Board of Education that the expansion the new campus will not only accommodate more students who want to attend; it’ll be a moneymaker. “Being able to lease this facility … will enable us to grow the cohort by 30 a year, which will be 90 in total,” he said. “That will not only cover the additional rent and the operating expenses, but would be able to create some funds for investment in our Moscow facility as well.”

The approved deal is a 30-year lease with option to purchase. For the first five years, the rent will be $50,000 per month; it’d go up to $55,000 per month in years six through 10, with subsequent increases throughout the lease term.

The UI’s option to purchase may be exercised at each five-year point in the lease.

Boise State also looked at site

Boise State University Director of Media Relations Mike Sharp told BoiseDev the school also looked at the former Concordia property and prepared a non-binding letter of interest – noting the property was already set up for classroom use.

“The building is turnkey for education and its proximity to industry and the statehouse made it an appealing opportunity, but not our highest priority,” he said.

Sharp said the property owners decided to go in a different direction.

Boise State has two other operations in the Downtown Boise area, including the College of Innovation at Front and Capitol, as well as computer science programs on Main St.

UI outgrew old courthouse

Currently, the UI’s Boise law school is housed at the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center, the state-owned former Ada County courthouse directly across 6th Street from the state Capitol. But the program already has spilled out of that facility, and has additional space in the Idaho Water Center building at Broadway Avenue and Front Street. Green said once the program moves out, the Water Center space can be leased to generate revenue for the university.

“Having taken on the student cohort from Concordia gave us a lot of insight to what the market is in the Treasure Valley,” Green said. “We’re pretty confident we can hit that 90 over three years.”

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He added, “The rents are at the low end of market, so we think we’re getting a pretty good rent ask out of this.”

Kalb said, “I think it’s just fantastic. It’s been a decade since we started exploring expansion into Boise, and I think this is really a validation of my predecessors and that foresight to see that we can better serve the state if we had a second campus.”

The Law & Justice Learning Center has been “a lovely home” for the law school, she said, “but as we’ve grown, the space constraints have just become more and more significant, so I’m just really, really thrilled for the Boise community that we’re going to be in a full-fledged educational campus.”

Could start next year

The earliest that UI law school classes could begin in the new facility would be January of 2022, launching the spring semester, Kalb said. “We would transition. We would continue to occupy the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center through this year to sort of help us in that transition,” she said.

Green said he anticipates on top of the annual lease of costs of $600,000, operating costs of $300,000, but revenues of between $1.6 million and $1.8 million. “So we should generate a substantial amount of operating funds we can then continue to invest in our students and into the Moscow facility as well.”

In addition to picking up 110 of Concordia’s law students, the UI hired a batch of Concordia’s faculty members. Some have now moved on to tenured positions elsewhere, Kalb said; one has been hired permanently and two are in talks about permanent positions.

Future uses of the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center once the law school moves out haven’t been announced. “It’s a state building, and so it will be really up to the state,” Kalb said.

BoiseDev’s Don Day contributed reporting.

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Betsy Russell - Idaho Press
Betsy Russell - Idaho Press
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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