Columbia Basin College’s wish to establish student housing near its campus could be only one year from reality after June 20.
During its regular meeting, the Pasco City Council will consider selling about five acres of land near the corner of Argent Road and 20th Avenue, just northeast of the Pasco campus, to a private developer working with the college for just under $800,000.
“CBC is growing bigger and they want to add more services, and I think it’s a good partnership,” Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins told the Herald.
The developer would use the property for a project that could house nearly 400 students when fully built out, according to council documents.
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The first round of units are expected to be available as soon as the fall of 2017.
“There are a lot of good reasons to do this for the future of the college,” said CBC President Rich Cummins.
CBC began discussions with the city this spring about the need for land for the project. Space on the campus isn’t adequate for the project. There are also limitations on residential development on some nearby parcels, because of restrictions from the Federal Aviation Administration from the Tri-Cities Airport.
The land up for sale is about half of a 10-acre parcel left over from the development of the Sun Willows Golf Course years ago. The remaining acreage, which is actually on the corner of Argent Road and 20th Avenue, will be retained by the city for a future development, such as a hotel, Watkins said.
CBC is growing bigger and they want to add more services, and I think it’s a good partnership.
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins
State law prohibits CBC from building or operating student housing itself, though it can enter a contract for a private developer to build and operate such a project.
The college’s board of trustees voted this week to give Cummins authority to draft a contract with a developer.
Cummins said he is negotiating with a developer, which he declined to identify. A deal could be announced in the coming weeks. Construction could begin soon after if the land sale is approved.
“It depends on how fast developers are poised to move,” he said.
CBC has considered student housing projects over the years. College officials ramped up efforts in recent months after a consultant survey estimated hundreds of CBC students want housing options closer to campus. Overall, though, interest in student housing is down from where it was nearly a decade ago.
Cummins has said the need for the project is partly driven by the college’s changing role in higher education. It is no longer a strictly two-year institution and offers four-year degrees. Student housing has also been shown to improve retention rates and overall academic performance.
CBC student leaders have said the student body wants a more dynamic campus community, which nearby housing could nurture. While there are questions about how affordable the student housing will be, rental occupancy rates are about 98 percent in the Tri-Cities, leaving students with few options as it is.
There are a lot of good reasons to do this for the future of the college.
CBC President Rich Cummins
The college isn’t alone in its interest in developing student housing — Washington State University Tri-Cities has pursued a similar project on its north Richland campus.
University officials walked away from a possible deal with a Kennewick developer last fall and solicited new proposals this winter. It has reportedly been considering three bids for the project this spring, including a new proposal from the initial developer, but officials have yet to reveal details about the bids and when a decision would be possible.
CBC’s fast track for the project isn’t a reflection of competing with the university for students, Cummins said. Rather, he thinks either campus developing student housing would benefit the entire higher education community in the Tri-Cities. It’s simply pragmatic for the college to move now to address a need of future students.