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State representative says U of W branch not needed
MARYSVILLE Even as local officials continue to lobby to bring a new branch campus of the University of Washington here, at least one state representative says the new school isnt necessarily needed.
Ive been very supportive of higher education ever since I was in the legislature, said state Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-39.
Still, Kristiansen believes there are plenty of questions that need answering before the state moves forward with the proposed branch campus.
In an interview with the Globe, Kristiansen talked extensively of the student capacity he believes exists at current Washington colleges and universities. He said hes looking at the issue from the standpoint of a former small business owner.
You dont expand unless theres a need, Kristiansen said.
On his website, Kristiansen states Washington currently has six public four-year institutions with five branch campuses along with 34 community and technical colleges.
But he also claims those combined schools have space for 23,663 additional students.
Kristiansen claimed the issues hes raised have caught the attention of other legislators, all of whom will have some say as to where and even if a new campus becomes a reality.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen was in direct opposition to those of Kristiansen, particularly regarding Kristiansens arguments on the capacity of the states existing schools.
I cant say there is going to be a campus in Marysville or anywhere else, Owen said. What I can say is, the demand is there.
In his comments, Kristiansen pointed many times to the UW Bothell campus. That school sits roughly 18 miles from the Everett location favored by the state site selection committee as the home of the potential new University of Washington campus. But Kristiansen argued like many of the states schools, Bothell is operating well below capacity.
Based on information he said he and his staff obtained from the schools involved, Kristiansen maintained some schools have only one-third the number of students they could potentially accommodate.
Thats not what we hear, Owen countered.
Whos right? A UW Bothell spokesperson countered Kristiansens arguments, at least in regard to that campus.
According to our master facility plan, we are close to our maximum capacity, said the Bothell campuss Elizabeth Fischtziur.
She added the campus cannot grow further until the state funds a new highway interchange and some additional buildings.
Kristiansen hit on several topics beyond the capacity of existing schools. Much of the call for the new campus centers on a need to serve students in Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties, he said.
But Kristiansen further stated the debate over the Bothell campus also revolved around location and reiterated his argument that campus now sits underused. While he might not favor any school, Kristiansen said he doesnt necessarily see an Everett location as optimal, arguing that of the potential locations under consideration, the Everett site is the farthest from Skagit and Island counties.
Thats probably what pricked up my ears the most, Kristiansen said.
Kristiansen also has questions about funding for the new campus. He quoted state reports putting the price tag at anywhere from $650 million to $840 million. At the same time, he added, the state constantly is digging for dollars to operate and maintain its current schools.
That situation puzzles me a bit, he said.
State Sen. Paull Shin, heads up the Washington Senates higher education committee. The committee eventually will make a recommendation to the full state senate on the issue of the new campus. Shin believes its too early in the discussion to say exactly where money for a new campus might be found. Shin didnt endorse one potential campus location over another, but added a more rural setting might be less expensive than an urban site.
Shin planned a meeting of his committee for this week, during which he said members would begin discussing the site selection committees recommendations. Wherever a new campus lands, Shin hopes to create what he called the MIT of the Northwest.
We dont have anything like that here, he said.
In summing up his comments, Kristiansen stopped short of coming out completely against a new campus.
My bringing up these questions is probably not going to stop anything and thats not my intention, he said. I do believe there are a number of issues that need to be looked at before we move forward.