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Classes could start in 2009 at new Idaho university branch


The founder of retailer Coldwater Creek has increased the amount he will spend to bring a University of Idaho branch campus to this resort town, and classes are scheduled to start in 2009.

The Idaho state Board of Education on Thursday night approved an agreement with Dennis Pence in which he will increase his contribution from $26 million to at least $36 million.

The board, meeting in Twin Falls, backed the plan to sell 77 acres owned by the University of Idaho just north of downtown Sandpoint to Pence’s Wild Rose Foundation for $6.25 million.

Most of that money would go into a trust for educational programs at the site, and the foundation would spend at least $30 million to build the first four buildings, which would then be given to the UI, according to the agreement.

“This is unique in that we’re really able to create a whole campus from the very beginning,” said Larry Branen, the UI’s associate vice president for northern Idaho.

The school’s main campus is in Moscow, about 100 miles south of Sandpoint.

“The new University of Idaho campus in Sandpoint is another tangible expression of our commitment to an educated and civically engaged population,” said university President Tim White. “We are enormously grateful for the generosity and vision of the Wild Rose Foundation.”

Classes would start at the Sandpoint Center in fall 2009. The emphasis would be on interdisciplinary programs in the liberal arts, natural resources and food science, Branen said. Other programs would include an executive MBA program, as well as offerings from North Idaho College.

Enrollment is projected at about 1,000 within five years.

Branen said it often takes years for universities to establish branch campuses. In this case, the UI will have four new buildings and a campus environment already in place when classes begin.

The four buildings are for performing arts learning, agricultural and life sciences, administration and center operations and a student union.

Proceeds from the land sale will create a foundation to provide $500,000 a year for faculty and programs; the UI expects to spend another $150,000 in the first couple of years of operation.

But the amount of the UI’s commitment could vary, depending on state funding and enrollments at the campus.

“Essentially, it’s a turnkey operation,” Branen said. “But we have to turn on the lights and bring people into it.”

Pence is chairman and CEO of Coldwater Creek, the Sandpoint-based clothing operation that has seen booming growth in recent years. Business Week listed it last year as one of 100 “Hot Growth Companies.”

The nonprofit Wild Rose Foundation was formed in 2005, and approached the UI with the proposal.

Many in Idaho are wary of big plans for branch campuses, given the difficult times that arose from the UI’s plans for a new operation in Boise several years ago. When those plans began to unravel in 2002, the UI was left with a big budget hole, and its former financial vice president wound up convicted of misusing public funds.

“I think we all learned a lot from Boise,” Branen said. “This is something where the funding is up front. We know where it’s coming from.”

The campus would be located on Sand Creek north of downtown, on the north portion of the 77-acre parcel.

The 77 acres currently is operated as the Sandpoint Research and Extension Center, run by the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Wild Rose will donate 18 acres of nearby land to the university to relocate the agricultural research and extension field activities.

Wild Rose will offer the southern portion of the parcel to the Lake Pend Oreille School District for the construction of a high school, if the district can come up with funding.

Information from: The Spokesman-Review,

– Associated Press

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