Coeur d’Alene, a hub for higher education

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North Idaho College and the higher education campus, with the new DeArmond Building, center left, is within walking distance of Coeur d’Alene’s downtown restaurants, shops and the Coeur d’Alene Resort. (Courtesy photo)

It used to be a mill town. Then it became a resort town.

But Coeur d’Alene has long been a college town.

The city’s downtown area, on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, is a tourist destination with a hub of collegiate activity within walking distance.

Entryways to North Idaho College from Northwest Boulevard, welcome visitors to a higher education campus and recognize education partnerships between NIC, Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho.

Since 1933, Coeur d’Alene has been home to NIC, a two-year, comprehensive community college.

NIC’s campus, at the northern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene at the headwaters of the Spokane River, looks very different today than it did in 1980 when Christie Wood, current chair of NIC’s board of trustees and a retired Coeur d’Alene police sergeant, attended the college.

“It was quaint and small,” Wood said.

The campus itself was somewhat isolated, sided by the lake, the river, the Fort Grounds residential neighborhood and until about 10 years ago, the DeArmond saw mill.

“It was incredibly different. There was basically one entrance in, and you could go onto the dike road to get out,” said Wood, referring to Rosenberry Drive, a road that runs along the campus’s waterfront.

Wood recalls taking law enforcement classes at NIC and then walking across the street to work at the mill, where she was a security guard.

In the 1980s, Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho each established a physical presence in Coeur d’Alene.

“That has strengthened our community connections,” Wood said.

NIC expanded its physical footprint with the purchase of the 17-acre DeArmond mill site, and by developing an education corridor, which took place over the last decade.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the education corridor in 2011, then NIC board chair Mic Armon said moving the plan to fruition took the cooperation and work of many project partners: NIC, LCSC, UI, the Fort Grounds Homeowners Association and the city of Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal agency, now named ignite cda.

“We had one goal, to create future education opportunities for children and residents of this community,” Armon said, during the ceremony.

Wood, who was also on the board at the time, said it was a one-time opportunity to purchase the land and expand higher education offerings in Coeur d’Alene.

“I’m so glad the board had the courage to do it,” Wood said.

Today, a student can go from kindergarten to earning a doctorate degree, without leaving Coeur d’Alene.

“NIC has benefited from a consistent, strong vision and leadership,” Wood said. “This has increased access to education and success for students.”

A new structure on the higher education campus quietly opened earlier this summer, a dozen years after it was first envisioned.

An official ribbon-cutting will take place Sept. 10 at the DeArmond Building, a joint-use, collaborative education facility. Its construction was funded, in part, by NIC, LCSC and UI, and the three institutions are working together to provide a seamless, higher education experience for students.

Wood said the vision for the higher education campus was that it wouldn’t matter whether you were an NIC Cardinal, a LCSC Warrior or a UI Vandal.

“The school name on your certificate doesn’t matter,” Wood said. “What matters is that all three of us have shepherded you through to completion of your program in an affordable, accessible way.”

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