City, Olhava and college reach agreement

POULSBO — The pen is mightier than the words.

Years of talk, deliberation and outright frustrated arguments came to an end Wednesday night as the Poulsbo City Council, Olympic College and officials from Olhava Associates Wednesday night found an elusive patch of common ground and reached a long-awaited agreement on the local branch campus.

Hailed by Mayor Donna Jean Bruce as possibly the “most important thing” the city council would do in 2002, the official Memorandum of Understanding allows the 20-acre project to break out of its planning cocoon and take flight under its own wings.

The finalized agreement, according to Mayor Bruce, outlines tasks, schedules and responsibilities of each of the three agencies that will facilitate construction of Olympic College Poulsbo later this year. The 20-acre campus is set to open in late-2003.

The statement, which followed countless hours of work from all parties involved, comes less than two months after a previous declaration was made by the three entities.

On Nov. 14 the trio — feeling intense pressure from the public and the state legislature — agreed to a similar memorandum that required additional work before each party signed.

This reworking was exactly what transpired in the past few weeks but now, according to officials from the city, the college and the developer, Olympic College is finally ready take some much-needed steps in the right direction.

“The next thing on our agenda may be the most important thing we end up doing this year,” Mayor Donna Jean Bruce said moments before inviting representatives from Olhava Associates, Olympic College and the Washington State Legislature forward to sign the agreement.

“Soon we’ll have a college in our neighborhood,” Bruce added.

While all parties were excited to do just this, there was some concern whether the long-standing financial question of $12.9 million in state funding had truly been answered. The money has been a source of headaches for all involved and, with a recently down-scaled state budget, is the reason why supporters cannot afford to sit on their laurels. Progress must be shown at the Olhava property because the state can always change its mind and use the nest egg for another omelet.

“I have been given assurances by the Capital Research Committee that we will have money in the budget. It is my understanding that it will be there,” Sen. Sheldon told the council.

City Councilman Ed Stern echoed the senator’s remarks, explaining that Poulsbo was also prepared to shoulder its share of the financial burden in order to make the project a success.

“We’ve carefully reviewed all of the budgets (involved),” said Stern, noting that time was of the essence. “We’re quite confident that we have adequate resources to

take on this project as described in the memorandum of understanding.”

While the money is secure in the state budget for now, Olympic College Poulsbo will be at the mercy of contractors when it goes to bid later this year. Original plans and anticipated expenses for the project were drawn up in 1996, according to Stern, meaning that the campus budget must be adjusted to reflect nearly six years of inflation.

Delays on the allocated money, originally set at $13 million, have already cost the college roughly $100,000 — a trend which officials don’t want to see continue. But the very incentive pushing the project forward, a sagging economy, may also become the savior at Olhava when bids go out. Supporters reason that contractors involved might be forced to lower their expenses just to ensure their employees have work. According to the document, Olympic College must award a contract for construction by June 1 or put the memorandum in jeopardy of termination.

“This project has had many hurdles,” explained Barbara Stephenson, a former member of the Olympic College Board of Trustees and long-time advocate of the branch campus. “It has had many champions who have run with it.”

Stephenson thanked Mayor Bruce, Sen. Sheldon and councilman Stern for their efforts to keep the Poulsbo college concept afloat, while others in attendance also praised city staff for making sure the proposal stayed on track despite many detours.

Stern applauded Planning Director Glenn Gross and Public Works Supt. Bill Duffy for helping Poulsbo get to the agreement stage. The councilman also commended City Engineer John Stephenson for his “fortitude, diligence and stubbornness on this issue.”

According to James Robinson, a member of the Olympic College Board of Trustees, his group would do everything possible to make sure that date stands firm.

“The ball is now in our court and we will work just as hard as you have to get the college as soon as possible,” Robinson told the council at the close of its session.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d live long enough to see it,” remarked life-long Poulsbo resident Muriel Williams. Williams, a member of the Poulsbo Historical Society and a regular observer at city council sessions, called the signing a “historic moment.”

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