By NEIL PIERSON
Eastern Washington University moved another step closer to selling its Spokane Higher Education Center (SHEC), something that will impact about 3,500 students each quarter.
Last Friday, the university's board of trustees authorized president Rodolfo Arévalo to proceed with efforts to sell the building in downtown Spokane, which EWU has inhabited since 1983.
EWU has recently increased discussions about the mission and objectives of its Riverpoint campus in Spokane, which it shares with Washington State University's branch campus.
Arévalo told the board he sees Riverpoint as an “urban comprehensive campus” that will specialize in various high-demand programs like business, technology and health sciences. Prospective students have voiced interests about weekend, evening and graduate level classes too, something Arévalo sees fitting into Riverpoint's future.
“My intention is to ask deans to begin to look at curriculum and how we offer programs there,” he said.
The possibility of selling SHEC first surfaced in 2004 when EWU reached an agreement with WSU about co-existing at Riverpoint. While WSU retained ultimate control of the campus under state law, EWU was granted more input into expanding programs and funding new capital facilities projects. The agreement also stated that “EWU commits to dispose of the university's downtown center and appropriately use those capital dollars for the development of an Eastern facility on the Riverpoint campus.”
EWU interim provost Ron Dalla said he recently spoke with WSU-Spokane chancellor Brian Pitcher about moving classes from SHEC to Riverpoint. WSU was receptive to the idea and would donate classroom space, though it probably wouldn't be enough to make up for the 28 classrooms at SHEC. Programs like the integrated student service center, journalism, social work and creative writing would likely relocate to Riverpoint, while others would likely move back to the Cheney campus.
EWU trustee Gordon Budke said officials should be concerned about finding a home for all programs before selling SHEC so that students aren't left out in the cold.
“They should not fear where their classes will be held,” Budke said. “That might be a good message to get out.”
EWU has an agreement with the state regarding the sale of SHEC. The agreement contains a proviso that the university must sell the building by June 30 to keep the profits. That deadline has EWU officials working feverishly to iron out details and find enough replacement space, either in Spokane or Cheney.
“If we don't have the sale complete by June 30, we would want to renew the proviso,” said Mary Voves, EWU vice president for business and finance.
Arévalo said classroom space shouldn't be an issue, but it will be necessary to find office space for staff currently housed at SHEC. Arévalo also discussed the need to create a senior administrative position to manage EWU-Riverpoint, something he sees as a key for launching new programs in Spokane and interacting with the community.
“I concur with your thought to have a senior person at the contact point in Spokane,” Budke told Arévalo.
Arévalo didn't give an exact timeline for when SHEC would officially be put up for sale. He believed a buyer would surface within 45 days, but EWU would like the sale agreement to contain a lease proviso for the first year, easing the transition for faculty or programs that need new space.
“I think everybody at the university has a concern,” trustees chair Paul Tanaka said. We've been dealing with the concept for a while and it's an exciting, important concept for everybody. I think everyone understands the stakes here.”
In other news from the Feb. 23 trustees meeting, Arévalo mentioned that the recent legislative session has brought about a number of chances to speak about budget issues. The day before, he spoke with legislators in Olympia about funding a redesign of Patterson Hall, a $2 million project listed as the No. 2 priority on the university's capital projects summary for 2007-2009.
Arévalo also discussed a recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he visited six embassies. The Saudi Arabian consulate recently signed an agreement with President Bush to bring more students to the United States, and EWU is listed as a high-priority institution in that agreement.
“I think a lot of those students will be seeking admissions to high-demand areas,” Arévalo said.
Neil Pierson can be reached at email@example.com