Construction project will be worth it for NIC

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While the weather says that it is still summer, the college calendar tells me it is already fall - fall semester that is. Along with the excitement and anticipation that accompany the start of a new academic year, we are also navigating new waters of change. That change is the construction on the former DeArmond Mill site, right in the center of the Education Corridor. And while that, in itself, is exciting, it brings new traffic and parking concerns to staff, faculty, students and the community. But, I remind everyone that these inconveniences are a small price to pay as we begin to move the Education Corridor from vision to reality.

As a reminder for those of you who have followed this subject and as a brief explanation to newcomers to the topic, discussion about the development of an education corridor has taken place for well over two decades. In fact, our community long-range plan, the 2020 Vision created by the city of Coeur d'Alene, states that higher education is a top priority for our region.

The education corridor concept included both a vision and a geographic element. The vision was to expand higher education opportunities for the region to provide clear, accessible and affordable pathways to undergraduate and graduate degrees in general studies and professional-technical disciplines. The geographic element was to expand the current North Idaho College campus by acquiring the adjacent mill site. This would provide the necessary space to expand NIC as well as the existing partnerships and collaborations with Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho.

Local leaders in both education and business knew that the mills along the Spokane River downstream from NIC were beginning to close and that eventually the mill site adjacent to NIC would become available. Discussion turned quickly to serious planning when Stimson Lumber Company announced the closing of the last two mills on the river. Finally in November 2010, NIC purchased the DeArmond Mill site.

Acquiring the mill site could not have occurred without the total support and help from all the Education Corridor partners. The city of Coeur d'Alene, Lake City Development Corp., NIC, LCSC, the University of Idaho and the Fort Grounds Homeowners' Association worked extremely well together to begin transforming the vision into a geographic reality.

Almost as soon as the property became available, the partner organizations began to map out the future development of the land. First on our agenda was to create an infrastructure plan that would define specific building spaces and provide much needed access to the current campus from Northwest Boulevard.

The Lake City Development Corp. provided the funding for the construction of roadways that will include roundabouts, sidewalks, curbs and a signal at Hubbard and Northwest Boulevard. The contract for this work, at just under $3.7 million, was awarded to MDM Construction of Hayden and work began immediately following a groundbreaking ceremony on June 10, 2011. River Avenue work is near completion and includes widening and the installation of two roundabouts, one at Hubbard and the other at College Avenue. By the latter part of October, Hubbard will be extended out to Northwest Boulevard and a new signalized entrance to the college and the Harbor Center will be open. You can see all the plans, routing and get construction updates from www.edcorridor.com. There is also a webcam there to provide visuals of the construction progress.

Throughout the entire purchase process and infrastructure construction, we have continued to plan for the buildings, programs and activities that will take place on the site. Along with our education partners, LCSC and UI, we remain hopeful for state funding to help us construct a joint-use building. This project continues as the No. 1 priority for state funding for all three institutions. This fall, the NIC administration and the NIC Board of Trustees will be actively engaged in planning the next steps for the site which will make it a true center for higher education. We do not want to do this in a vacuum so please, let us know what you think. My webpage and the board's page at www.nic.edu provide the means to share your thoughts and ideas with us. And, as always, you can use the link below to send them to me, directly. Remember, NIC is your community college!

Priscilla Bell, Ph.D., is president of North Idaho College. For comments on this column, email her at PresidentsColumn@NIC.edu.

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