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College choice flops here

A consultant’s preferred site for a new four-year college serving Snohomish, Skagit and Island County students may have drawn cheers in Everett, but there was a chorus of boos emanating from Whidbey Island.

The preferred choice of the consultants is referred to as Pacific Station, which is the Everett train and bus station on Pacific Avenue.

“The Pacific Station site leverages the region’s existing urban infrastructure and current and forecasted employment opportunities, promises the most sustainable campus development strategy in the 21st century, and is among the least costly solutions for on and off-campus infrastructure improvements,” states the report, which was released Thursday.

The consultant listed Smokey Point as second in preference, Riverside in Everett third, and Cavalero in the Marysville area fourth.

The state plans to build a new four-year university under the umbrella of the University of Washington to serve students in the tri-county area. Academic emphasis will be science, technology, engineering and mathematics. More than 5,000 students are anticipated by the year 2025.

The final siting decision will be determined by the Legislature. One unhappy legislator is Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who sees the Pacific Station recommendation as a poor one for students from Whidbey and Camano islands.

“I’m not excited about it,” Haugen said Thursday. “The Legislature hates to build parking garages.” She said parking is already a serious problem in the Everett station area. “It doesn’t have room for a four-year college,” she said. “It’s not my vision of a four-year college.” The study notes additional land would have to be purchased beyond what Everett has offered.

From a public transportation perspective, students from North Whidbey could take the bus from Oak Harbor, using the fairly new County Connector service. But the route is limited and long-term funding from the Legislature is not assured, Haugen said.

South Whidbey students would be better served by the site. Everett Transit takes passengers directly to the station from the Mukilteo ferry dock. And train service is scheduled to start there shortly.

Haugen suggested the consultant, NBBJ, may have been unduly influenced by Everett interests. “Some people felt they were a little biased,” she said. “But Everett is very excited.”

Haugen didn’t make any direct threats to override the recommendation when the Legislature convenes in January, saying only that “we’ll continue to work with it.”

Also nonplussed by the choice of Pacific Station is Sharon Hart, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council. The process of choosing a site included a couple of meetings on Whidbey Island, which Hart said were mainly attended by groups from the mainland favoring one site or another.

“They know it’s our least favorite site,” Hart said of Pacific Station. “We’ll work with our legislators to try to get something that suits us.” She would prefer something closer to Whidbey Island, easier to access by automobile than downtown Everett, and one with more affordable housing options for students.

“It’s another urban atmosphere for a school that doesn’t serve the rural area,” Hart said. “I don’t think it serves Island County.”

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