Micron, U of I partner in microelectronics workforce programs

Next Generation Microelectronics Research Center.

MOSCOW, ID —The University of Idaho College of Engineering, in partnership with Micron Technology, is building Idaho’s professional semiconductor manufacturing workforce through its Next Generation Microelectronics Research Center (NGeM).

In support of the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act and a national focus to revitalize domestic manufacturing and mediate supply chain issues in the U.S., research funding for the lab is provided through a faculty endowment, established through a $1 million gift from the Micron Technology Foundation.

“Strengthening U.S. technology leadership requires talented engineers and technicians with diverse skill sets,” Scott Deboer, executive vice president of Micron’s Technology and Products organization said. “U of I’s College of Engineering is leading the charge in Idaho with world-class undergraduate and graduate education programs and research across the field of microelectronics.”

Launched in 2014, NGeM provides experience for undergraduate and graduate students through research projects funded by Micron, the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Defense, among others. Undergraduate and graduate students develop expertise in microelectronic device design, fabrication and packaging, cybersecurity, plant safety and related technologies, such as semiconductor physics, electrochemistry, corrosion and applications for the semiconductor industry.

Micron last year announced plans to invest $15 billion through the end of the decade, as a result of the CHIPS and Science Act

 The Micron Endowed Chair in Microelectronics is Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Feng Li. Micron’s establishment of this endowed position provides a permanent revenue source for the laboratory and faculty-mentored research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

“Thanks to our 40-year partnership with Micron, we have continuous support for research into advanced semiconductor design and manufacturing and one of the strongest foundations for enhancing microelectronics education and workforce training in Idaho,” Li said. 

U of I is expanding its microelectronics courses and training programs, with certificate programs coming soon. 

Micron last year announced plans to invest $15 billion through the end of the decade, as a result of the CHIPS and Science Act, to build a leading-edge memory manufacturing facility in Boise that will secure U.S. national and economic security. The new fab will require a highly skilled and diverse workforce, increased research investments and deeper local faculty expertise in semiconductors to support the workforce of the future and ensure semiconductor research, innovation and manufacturing success in Idaho and the U.S.

Micron’s investment will create over 17,000 Idaho jobs, including 2,000 direct Micron jobs as the cleanroom is built out and production is fully ramped up. As part of the company’s ongoing commitment to the Idaho community and to further grow the workforce, Micron will increase investment in K-12 STEM education programs, build on partnerships with community colleges and universities and identify new ways to provide advanced skills training to underrepresented and rural populations.

Lewiston High School students discover new aquatic invader

A Lewiston High School teacher and two of her former students recently became published authors in a peer-reviewed scientific journal based on their discovery while participating in a University of Idaho Extension citizens’ science program.

For the past seven years, UI Extension’s IDAH20 program has provided hands-on learning opportunities for Lewiston High School teacher Jamie Morton’s ecology and environmental science classes, which sample water and trap invertebrates in local watersheds. Morton shares their data to help UI Extension assess the health of Idaho’s waterways.

In October 2021, one of Morton’s IDAH20 field trips uncovered an important scientific finding that led state and federal water managers to take action.

While investigating a pair of municipal stormwater ponds near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, Morton’s class trapped a crustacean they later confirmed to be Idaho’s first known red swamp crayfish. If the aquatic invader multiplies in the surrounding environment, it could harm water quality and native species.

red swamp crawfish (Procambarus clarkii) poised for attack in the street

For their discovery, Morton and former students Elizabeth Connerley and Robert Bayless are among the listed authors of a paper published online this week in the journal “BioInvasions Records.” Their publication will also appear in the quarterly journal’s June print edition.

“It’s a genuine, honest discovery. And I hope it creates more buy-in with my classes as we go on, especially when it’s officially published,” Morton said. “We can make a contribution just being normal citizens. You don’t have to go to college and you don’t have to become a scientist in your day job to be interested and take care of your environment.”

Throughout the past decade, IDAH2O has taught basic water quality monitoring techniques to more than 600 citizen scientists from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Active participants receive pH test strips, kits for measuring dissolved oxygen in water and other basic supplies to record stream data, which they upload via a web app.

In addition to having volunteers collect data on stream health, Jim Ekins, UI Extension water educator and director of IDAH20, trains his volunteers to identify and report crayfish species for River Mile, which is a network of educators and students who study crayfish in the Pacific Northwest to better understand stream health.

Ekins also partners with like-minded organizations in Idaho, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon, training other trainers for IDAH20.

“We think citizen science may be a good way to find new invasions of invasive species. There are that many more eyeballs,” Ekins said. “Plus, we are teaching kids science, being observant and writing things down. Those are skills you need for any job.”

Typically, Morton’s classes trap and identify one of Idaho’s three native crayfish species. The red coloration and bumpy, pointy claws made the red swamp crayfish specimen relatively easy for the class to identify by comparing it with River Mile photographs. A crayfish expert confirmed their suspicions, which were reaffirmed through DNA testing.

A researcher measures the length of a Signal crayfish body and cephalothorax. Courtesy of Jamie Morton.

Two of Morton’s students — Connerley and Bayless — were captivated by the discovery and continued trapping crayfish outside of class in the following weeks. They trapped six more red swamp crayfish from the ponds, proving the original finding wasn’t an isolated occurrence. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has continued monitoring the ponds and the surrounding area.

“The best part was seeing the students who wanted to participate and were motivated to continue doing it because they wanted to,” Morton said.

University collaboration could resurrect ‘higher education CEO’ proposal

photo of little and university presidents
Gov. Brad Little, left, led a panel discussion of four university presidents, all of whom have joined since April 2018. Photo by Sharon Fisher

New presidents of Idaho state universities, with an increased spirit of collaboration, could resurrect a several-year-old plan to consolidate some university services to save money.

On. Oct. 8, Gov. Brad Little led what he called a “fireside chat” among the presidents of Boise State University, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho, all of whom started their terms within the past year and a half. They were joined by the president of the College of Idaho, a private institution based in Caldwell. The event was held at JUMP as part of Boise Startup Week.

Joining Little were Marlene Tromp, named president of Boise State University in April; Kevin Satterlee, named president of Idaho State University in April 2018; C. Scott Green, named president of the University of Idaho in April and Jim Everett, named co-president of the College of Idaho in February 2018.

“Never in my professional career as an educator in Idaho did I think I would tag this many institutions TOGETHER on the stage,” wrote Mike Satz, executive officer and associate vice president, southwest region at University of Idaho, on Twitter. “Wow. I. Am. Impressed.”

Consolidating services

A number of Little’s questions touched on “collaboration” and “coordination.” He mentioned their developing curriculum that would allow students to transfer seamlessly from one university to another should their educational plans change.

“The people here are the ones who can get that done,” he said.

The discussion was reminiscent of a 2018 proposal by then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to hire a so-called “higher education CEO” to look for efficiencies by integrating and combining services across institutions. Otter included a $769,500 line item for integration of higher education systems, including $500,000 for a contractor to study the issue.

That year, the idea didn’t get much traction, and while a bill to implement the regulation was printed by the Senate Education Committee, it was never addressed during the 2018 legislative session.

But while Little didn’t give any specifics, and deferred details to the State Board of Education – which would have controlled the “higher education CEO” appointment – he agreed that, with the new presidents, the idea could be revisited at some point in the future.

Otter’s effort cited two reports. First, the Task Force on Higher Education called in September 2017 for the higher education CEO as part of its report, as well as consolidating back-office functions from the universities.

Second, a report presented to the Idaho State Board of Education on Dec. 20 by Huron, a Chicago-based consulting firm, said that consolidation of services could save up to $38 million over the next 10 years, according to a press release. But the Legislature didn’t address the issue during the 2019 session.

In addition to collaborating on curriculum, the presidents talked about collaborating on issues such as cybersecurity education.

Education and entrepreneurship

More generally, the university presidents talked about the importance of education – particularly research – in the technology industry and for entrepreneurs. Tying education with business and industry makes students more employable, Satterlee said, while Tromp said that Boise State’s reputation for innovation was part of the reason she joined.

Another issue that arose was diversity, which has come under particular criticism at Boise State by some legislators. Diversity has always been a focus in Idaho, Everett said, noting that the College of Idaho has students from 88 countries joining the 60% of the student body from Idaho. Diversity builds innovation, and working with students from overseas helps Idaho students learn to work across cultures, he said.

Little noted that JUMP – built by the family of Idaho businessman J.R. Simplot after his death – was an example of the value of education. Though Simplot didn’t attend college himself, he considered education important, Little said.

University of Idaho to play pivotal role in Dragonfly’s life on Titan experiment

image of dragonfly life on titan experiment
Dragonfly is designed to scoop material from Titan’s surface to test whether it has developed the building blocks of life. Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins

MOSCOW — Is there life on Titan? The University of Idaho hopes to find out.

The mission isn’t scheduled to depart Earth until 2026, but Jason Barnes, associate professor of physics in the University of Idaho’s College of Science, is working on an experiment to help detect whether amino acids, the building blocks of life – at least here – are also present on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s 62 moons.

photo of jason barnes
Jason Barnes

“It’s one of the more interesting places we know of in the solar system,” Barnes said.

Most planets have a solid surface but no atmosphere or an atmosphere but no solid surface. Only three places in the solar system have both:  Venus, Mars and Titan.

“The atmosphere is particularly interesting,” Barnes said. It’s much like Earth’s, with a similar pressure and composition of mostly nitrogen. Plus, Titan has enough gravity to retain its atmosphere.

Barnes’ experiment will land on Titan, measure organic compounds and see how far they’ve progressed on the path toward life, he said.

NASA is running the mission, and the civil space division of Johns Hopkins, in Maryland, will be building the satellite, said Barnes, who has been named deputy principal investigator for the experiment.

Barnes is helping design the quad-copter machine — nicknamed Dragonfly after the Earth insect it resembles — to collect the samples. While it may nominally seem like a drone, it’s a lot more complex than one you can pick up at Walmart.

“We’re designing something that’s never been done before,” he said. “It has to work the first time, because you can’t send someone up with a wrench to fix it.”

Part of that involves extensive testing on Earth.

“We can’t simulate the gravity or atmosphere, but we can operate in the same conditions,” Barnes said. “We want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row before we launch.”

By about 10 minutes after landing, which isn’t scheduled until 2034, Dragonfly will start sending data back to Earth — slowly. In total, over the project’s 2 ½-year mission, it will transmit about one DVD’s worth of data.

“It’s slightly faster than an ancient modem, but not by much,” Barnes said.

Barnes isn’t the only Idaho connection to the Titan project. Idaho National Laboratory is also helping develop Dragonfly’s nuclear fuel, which should keep the device flying long after the official end of the project.

“The half-life is 95 years, and there’s no reason we couldn’t keep going for that many years,” he said.

The effort will help scientists under Titan, a cold distant moon, much better.

Located 10 times further from the sun than the Earth, Titan gets only 1% of the sunlight. Consequently, the temperature on Titan hovers around 90 Kelvin or almost 300 degrees below zero Farenheit.

That also means methane – chemically known as CH4, the same substance used in our gas stoves but liquid at Titan’s temperatures – plays a similar role in Titan’s atmosphere that water plays on Earth.

“It can form clouds and rain out onto the surface,” Barnes said. “Liquid methane rain carves channels and gullies into giant lakes and seas of liquid methane.”

Other than the Earth, it’s the only body we know of that has lakes on the surface, he said. But when sunlight hits methane, it breaks up into chemical variants, which can then agglomerate into other organic molecules.

Organic molecules may become self-replicating, or may have developed amino acids — a key ingredient in protein.

“Our primary goal is to see how far organic chemistry has progressed on Titan,” Barnes said.


The ABCs of Idaho education building funding

Willow Creek Elementary, a West Ada School District building that was constructed using plant facilities levy funds over a period of three years. Photo courtesy of Vallivue School District.

Constructing education buildings can be challenging enough, but funding them in Idaho can be even more difficult. While there are several methods districts can consider, none of them is particularly easy.

Impact fees

It might seem logical to have a developer contribute to the cost of constructing a new public school building. After all, if the developer is bringing new families to the area and profiting in the process, doesn’t that make sense? And it’s true that in a number of other municipal areas, such as roads, parks and public safety, communities are allowed to charge impact fees to developers to help fund future expansion.

But not schools. At least, not in Idaho, though some other states charge impact fees for schools.

Idaho’s impact fee law was enacted in 1992, according to the Idaho Legislature’s website, and the reason schools were left out of it in the first place is lost to the mists of time. While efforts have been made to add schools to the impact fee law, most recently in 2006 in response to an interim committee on property taxes, school impact fees didn’t make the cut. No significant efforts have been made to add them since.

“In general, the resistance to adding schools to impact fee statue was the thought that schools — on the surface anyway, setting realities of securing the votes aside — can run emergency levies, supplemental levies, plant levies and bonds,” said former Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who was one of the sponsors of the 2006 bill and who retired in 2018 as Senate co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “In short, the thinking was that schools had tools to be used to address growth and didn’t need more.”

There was also the usual objection to adding any new taxing or fee authority, she added.


Sage Valley Middle School, in Vallivue. The new middle school that Vallivue will be able to build with its 2019 bond will be based on the same blueprint. Photo courtesy of Vallivue School District.

The primary way that public elementary and secondary schools are funded in Idaho is through bonds. As opposed to levies, which fund school operations, bonds can be used only for capital construction, typically last for 10 to 30 years and are guaranteed by the state so they have a low interest rate. Elections for school bonds can be held just four times a year — March, May, August and November. In contrast to many states, school bonds in Idaho, like other governmental bonds, must get a two-thirds majority to pass.

That’s a high bar, and a lot of school districts barely make it or don’t make it at all. Vallivue School District, for instance, passed a $65.3 million bond in March by a single vote.

“Every ‘no’ vote takes two ‘yes’ votes to counteract that,” said Joey Palmer, director of community relations for state and federal programs for Vallivue, which covers the rural areas of Nampa and Caldwell. “If we were playing basketball, the team that wants to build the school would shoot two-pointers and the team against gets to shoot three-pointers.”

It’s also challenging for school districts to get the word out. Districts are not allowed to advocate for bonds, but can provide factual information. They are also limited in how they can spend money on providing information, so expensive multiple mailings are likely out. But getting people to show up for meetings can be a challenge.

Two years ago, with a different vote, the district held a town hall. “We advertised like crazy,” Palmer recalled. “’Come to a town hall! You can ask our superintendent a million questions!’ We advertised that for two weeks. Print advertisements. Reader boards. Social media.”

And the result?

“One person attended,” Palmer said. “We had this huge auditorium, and it was all empty seats, and it was this sweet retired lady, who didn’t even have any children or grandchildren in the district, who thought she’d check it out.”

This year, Vallivue did something different.

Instead of town halls, the district used social media, including Facebook Live, to provide information and solicit questions, Palmer said.

Because the district is growing so much, it is in the enviable position of being able to raise money without increasing tax rates — or, in fact, even while lowering them. The number of new buildings and the increase in property value is enough.

“In 10 years, with all the new homes and businesses, our market value has gone up $1 billion,” Palmer said. “Our tax levy rate is the lowest it’s been in 15 years. People call me a liar, but we’re very transparent with all our finances. It’s a very fortunate position to be in as a district.”

However, that can also make explaining the bond challenging. According to the ballot, the school district was asking for permission to use $100 per $100,000 of assessed value of its existing tax rate toward construction. But a number of people told him that they had voted no because they assumed that meant they’d be charged an additional $100 per year.

“Ballot language isn’t always easy to understand,” Palmer said. “It’s written in legalese.”

Now, the school has $65.3 million for five projects, including a third middle school, renovations for its oldest school, security and technology updates for all the schools and land purchases for future schools.

“The last thing we want to do is build another school and there’s no land left to purchase,” Palmer said.

Plant facilities levies

Because of the high bar bonds require, some districts use plant facilities levies. Unlike bonds, a plant facilities levy is typically applied every year for 10 years and is funded by a bank, so it has a slightly higher interest rate than a bond. However, it requires only a 55 or 60 percent majority vote to pass, depending on the debt level of the taxing district. Some districts — such as Vallivue, which needed two tries in 2017 to pass one by just four votes — use plant facilities levies for maintenance projects, such as new roofs and parking lots.

The West Ada School District, which covers Meridian and is the largest in the state, has had a plant facilities levy since 1972. It is renewed every 10 years, typically for maintenance and improvements, said Eric Exline, chief communications officer.

But depending on how the ballot question is worded, plant facilities levies can be used to construct new buildings as well, Exline said. For example, the district in 2007 included “construction of new facilities” in its ballot wording for a $20 million plant facilities levy. “We used a part of that $20 million, over a three-year period, to build Willow Creek Elementary,” a $16 million project, he said. The district built it in sections so that it could use some of the levy money for maintenance.

Similarly, the district built Renaissance High School, inside the former Jabil plant, over a 10-year period. It supported 800 students while construction was going on.

“We just finished the last phase this last year,” Exline said. “We kept needing to add some more space.”

West Ada’s current plant facilities levy is for $16 million, but didn’t include the “construction” language, so it’s just being used for projects such as adding on to existing schools, and maintenance such as roofs, parking lots and paint.

Plant facilities levies for constructing new schools were particularly useful during the recession, but now that the economy has recovered, the district is back on a two- to three-year cycle of running bonds and turning to the plant facilities levies for maintenance.

“Our community has been pretty supportive of bonds,” Exline said. “Since 1996, only one has failed.”

Charter schools

Future Public School. Photo courtesy of Bluum.

Charter schools — which are public schools, not private, and are typically geared to a specific subset of the community — have a different challenge. By Idaho law, they aren’t allowed to bring bonds or levies for a vote of the people. Instead, they get a certain amount of funding from the state. That, combined with grants, help from nonprofit organizations, and so on, helps them construct their facilities.

“Until 2013, charter school facilities had to be funded completely out of the general education allocation from the state,” said Marc Carignan, chief financial officer for Bluum, a nonprofit organization that has helped fund and run a number of Idaho charter schools, including Future Public School in Garden City. “This is the struggle that we have. Public charter schools are not taxing entities.”

In 2013, the law was amended to allow an allocation of some additional state department of education funds for charter facilities, which amounts to about $390 per student, Bluum said. Between that, some maintenance funding that all public schools receive and allocation of about $445 per student, charter districts end up receiving about $1,200 per student, he said.

“What that’s forced us to do is to be really thoughtful about how we build school facilities,” Carignan said. For example, Future Public School partnered with the Garden City Boys & Girls Club. Because the club wasn’t used during the day, the school could use its gym and cafeteria. Because the school isn’t used during the day, the club can use the school’s classrooms for its programs. The result is that Future Public School spent $7.6 million for 576 students, or about $13,000 per seat, which is much less than comparable schools in the Treasure Valley spent, he said.

The downside was the expense for land at that location — about $800,000 for about one acre, Carignan said. By comparison, an 11-acre parcel in Caldwell that the company is looking at for a charter school in two years is $339,000.

Another example is Alturas International, in Idaho Falls, which renovated a former district public school for $7.2 million for 538 pupils.

“The cost is about the same per seat, but we didn’t have to make any compromises on the gym,” Carignan said.

Similarly, Gem Prep in Pocatello, another Bluum project, is going to be located in an old Sears store.

“That’s going to be a great deal,” Carignan said.

Because the building was so inexpensive, the total cost including renovations will be less than $12,000 per seat, he said.

The Idaho Legislature considered a number of bills this session to help with charter school funding, such as SB 1180, which adopted a “moral obligation” bond funding mechanism. That meant the state would act as a “backstop” in case a charter school missed a loan payment.

Another bill, HB91, allowed municipalities to not charge charter schools the impact fees for roads and parks that a typical commercial construction project would pay. District public schools are exempt from such fees because it would basically be one government taxing another, but charter schools, even though they’re also primarily funded by the state, had never been exempted from such fees. Some municipalities exempt charter schools from the fees anyway.

Carignan would like to see charter schools be allowed to participate in bond issues. In some other states, school districts either “must” or “may” allow charter schools to participate, he said. That could offer a benefit to both, he said.

“Let’s say a school district is having trouble passing a $100 million bond issue,” Carignan said. If the charter school needs $10 million, the district could put forth a $110 million bond, agreeing to share the proceeds, and the charter school could leverage its base of parents and taxpayers to vote, he said.

“It can be a determining factor in whether the bond will pass,” he said.

There’s also the question of what would happen to the building should the charter school shut down.

“Legally, I suspect the building would be the property of the district,” Carignan said.

Alternatively, another charter school could be recruited to run the new school, he said. To reduce the risk of that happening, the program could be limited to charter schools that had been around and successful for several years, he said.

Higher education

Idaho’s public colleges and universities have the same problem to deal with, though they have a few more options.

For example, colleges have donors who can contribute funding. Just look around Boise State University (BSU) at how many buildings have “Micron” in the name. There’s the Micron Center for Materials Research (part of the Micron School of Materials and Engineering), the Simplot/Micron Academic Success Hub, the Micron Business & Economics Building and the Micron Engineering Center, as well as the Appleton Tennis Center, named after the late Micron CEO.

Similarly, the College of Eastern Idaho received $1.73 million from the William J. and Shirley A. Maeck Family Foundation to undertake the college’s first renovations of the former Eastern Idaho Technical College campus. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation donated $2 million in December to the Idaho State University (ISU) College of Technology to help renovate a building on the Pocatello campus to consolidate some of its career technical education programs, and William and Karin Eames donated $2.5 million.

All this can take awhile. For example, the University of Idaho has been working on the Idaho Center for Agriculture Food and the Environment (CAFE) for 15 years, and has just gotten to the point of purchasing land, which it announced in February. The university will pay $2.5 million, and the Idaho Dairymen’s Association is contributing $2 million toward a 540-acre parcel, along with another parcel donated by the seller. But it’s a $45 million project, and the university isn’t saying when it will be completed.

Colleges and universities can also make arrangements to lease back buildings that are constructed by other organizations, such as the BSU Honors College, constructed and managed through a real estate investment trust specializing in student living facilities. BSU will own the property in a little less than 50 years.

The University of Idaho is funding its $46 million Idaho Central Credit Union Arena using a $10 million donation from ICCU — hence the name — and loaning itself $29 million from reserve funds, which it expects to pay back with donations and fees.

And, as with elementary and secondary schools, state colleges and universities can use bonds and plant facilities levies, with the same voting requirements.

Permanent Building Fund

In addition, the state’s Permanent Building Fund can contribute money toward buildings at colleges and universities, though the schools need to compete for that funding and it doesn’t always pay the entire cost. The Permanent Building Fund, which few other states have, was formalized in 1961 as a permanent source of funding for state buildings at $10 per filed tax return, said Raymond Pankopf, director for architecture and engineering services for the University of Idaho.

“That $10 in 1961 has never been increased,” Pankopf said, noting that in present-day dollars it would require $84 to keep up. In addition, the Permanent Building Fund has been supplemented from other sources, such as cigarette tax money, the liquor tax and an annual contribution from the lottery, increasing the total to about $40 to $50 per return – but still not up to $84.

“We have the fund, and it’s nice to have a permanent fund, but resources are very tight and there is no appetite to increase it,” he said.

Other agencies are also dependent on the fund. They include the Idaho State Police, the Department of Corrections and state hospitals, as well as state-owned buildings in the Capitol Mall, Pankopf said.

The money is managed by the Permanent Building Fund Advisory Council, a five-member board appointed by the governor. It includes one state representative, one state senator, one representative from the finance and banking community, one representative from the general contracting community and one at-large member, Pankopf said.

Altogether, the fund typically generates around $35 million per year, which is generally split up into thirds. One-third goes for operations, maintenance and repair of the Capitol Mall. About a third goes into alteration and repairs for other state-owned buildings. The final third goes into major capital, which is where the colleges and universities come in. That third amounts to about $10 million to $13 million per year, Pankopf said.

The breakdown of the funding varies from year to year.

“In the 2018 Legislature, the general thought was, we won’t do new buildings, but take care of what we have,” Pankopf said. Consequently, the majority of the money was put into alteration and repair.

Typically, colleges and universities can’t expect the Permanent Building Fund to pay for an entire building.

“Our experience at the University of Idaho is we will never see a building fully funded from the Permanent Building Fund,” Pankopf said. “We can generally count on partial funding or seed funding.”

For example, in 2017, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $10 million from the state’s Permanent Building Fund to help finance U of I’s CAFE project, with an additional $5 million investment anticipated as the project progresses.

“We often will see major capital funding in a year, and then it may skip a year or two before it’s our turn to see major capital money again,” Pankopf said.

In addition, Permanent Building Fund money is generally available only for general education funding, such as a classroom or a college, and not for auxiliary facilities, such as bookstores, residence halls or athletic facilities, Pankopf said.

Recently, the University of Idaho received $2.4 million for a major renovation to house the WWAMI program, a multi-state medical education program hosted by the University of Washington to serve students from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. The Idaho students are taught on the U of I campus for the first three semesters before going to Seattle for a semester. The facilities needed to be expanded because the Legislature doubled the number of seats it funded for the program, from 20 to 40, Pankopf explained. In addition, the school had to construct a new anatomy lab because the one it had been using, at Washington State University in Pullman, was moved to Spokane.

The Permanent Building Fund was also budgeted to contribute $10 million toward a health sciences building at the College of Western Idaho (CWI) community college. But if a school can’t raise the additional money required for the building, as with CWI, then it doesn’t get the state money.

CWI has been particularly challenged in this area. The community college, founded in 2007 to serve Ada and Canyon Counties, has been operating primarily in leased buildings since 2009. Since then, it has run bonds and plant facilities levies a number of times to, among other things, construct a health sciences building. Those attempts included $180 million in November 2016 and $39 million in November, an effort that fell 135 votes short of the required 55 percent. At this point, CWI’s board has thrown in the towel on the measure, at least for May.

Grant aids University of Idaho biofuel program

photo of sorghum
Sorghum being harvested. The annual crop produces seed heads used as biofuels. Photo courtesy of CABBI – University of Illinois.

A University of Idaho researcher has been awarded more than $750,000 to study biofuels.

photo of Tara Hudiburg
Tara Hudiburg

Tara Hudiburg, assistant professor with the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources, was awarded the grant to study biofuel sustainability. She is a co-principal investigator and will lead the biogeochemical modeling as part of the sustainability initiative of the project.

Biogeochemical modeling includes assessment of greenhouse gases, improving predictions of future crop yields, and assessing impacts on soil health, biodiversity and water quality.

The grant, awarded by the Department of Energy, is part of a $115 million project intended to create a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy. The biofuels research team consists of 60 people in 17 institutions, of which the University of Idaho is the westernmost.

The use of corn for ethanol is controversial, in part because corn could otherwise be used to feed people. Hudiburg said the researchers will study mostly non-food biofuel crops such as switchgrass, miscanthus, and sorghum, she said. “Switchgrass is a native, like prairie grass,” she said. “You’d recognize miscanthus – it’s a horticultural bunchy grass that gets really tall.” Both are hardy and don’t require much water or nitrogen, she said. In addition, they’re both perennials, meaning they don’t have to be sowed every year and the soil doesn’t need to be tilled. “You plant them, you mow it like grass, and the root system stays intact,” she explained. “The soil stays healthy, the carbon stays in the soil, and the carbon budget works out in a much more positive way.”

The grain heads of the sorghum plant, an annual, produce oils that are useful for high-density fuels; the two grasses produce fuels from cellulose, she said.

All three crops are unlikely to replace food crops, Hudiburg said. “Part of the modeling we do is to keep food constant in terms of land use,” she said. “It’s not about replacing food, but about replacing non-food corn. We’re seeking out marginal lands, land that’s not going to be converted for crops.”

Hudiburg’s group will focus on the economic and environmental components of biofuels, she said. “There’s no point in pursuing any of this if it’s not” environmentally better or more economically sustainable than fossil fuels, she said. “We’re making sure that it’s going in a direction that’s sustainable for the planet.” As part of her work, she runs scenarios for factors such as drought and climate change to calculate projected yields.

photo of Ralph Cavalieri
Ralph Cavalieri

“When you calculate the energy efficiency and carbon impact of alternative fuels, you go back to the crop and look at the inputs required to produce the crops – even so much as how much diesel fuel you end up using,” said Ralph Cavalieri, emeritus professor in biological systems engineering and director of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance for Washington State University. “Perennials are great. That’s why switchgrass is so popular. It grows really tall, really fast,” allowing researchers to harvest a seven- to eight-foot stalk of it every year, he said.

Idaho’s agricultural industry isn’t likely to benefit from the biofuels research, Hudiburg said.

“It really works best in places without hot, dry summers” because of the need for irrigation, she said, though she added that part of the research involves working on the drought-tolerance part of the genome and water use efficiency.

Most likely to benefit from the research is the University of Idaho itself, Hudiburg said. “From a university point of view, it puts us on the map with other institutions,” she said. In addition, she can send graduate students to the participating universities, she said.

Idaho has had various biofuel programs before, said John Chatburn, administrator for the Idaho Governor’s Office of Energy and Mineral Resources. While the state doesn’t have any particular programs in biofuels, it keeps track of developments and proposed developments in the commercial sector, he said.

The story was edited on June 1 to reflect an updated Department of Energy grant figure.

Idaho business development team heads to Japan

photo of sakae casting
Sakae Casting’s Idaho Falls office. The company is hosting an Idaho delegation to Tokyo.

Idaho will send five representatives to Japan later this month to encourage foreign direct investment by Japanese companies in the state.

Participants include Kelly Anthon, Rupert city administrator and state senator; Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development Corp. for Eastern Idaho; Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce; Celia Gould, director of the state’s Agriculture Department; and Marc Skinner, executive officer of the southeastern region for the University of Idaho.

photo of Jan Rogers
Jan Rogers

The trip, which is scheduled from April 13 through April 18, is in two parts, Rogers said. In the first part, just Rogers, Anthon, and Skinner will visit the Idaho Falls sister city of Tokai-Mura, where they’ll meet with leaders from agricultural companies and the university there. In the second part, from April 16 to 18,  Meuleman and Gould will join the other three and visit Sakae Casting in Tokyo and other companies. Travel, and the first portion of the trip, will be paid for by the participants’ respective organizations.

Sakae will host the delegation’s lodging and meals for the second portion of the trip. Sakae specializes in castings for inserting stainless steel pipes into an aluminum casting product necessary for optimal performance of semiconductors and supercomputers. It recently opened an office in Idaho Falls, a process that began when Sakae CEO Takashi Suzuki visited Idaho Falls in March 2016 on a sister city visit with other business executives. At Idaho’s suggestion, the company later attended the SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington, D.C. in June 2016, where the state was exhibiting.

photo of connie stopher
Connie Stopher

Anthon, who speaks Japanese, played a pivotal role in forging the relationship with Sakae, even though the company wasn’t planning to visit the Magic Valley, said Connie Stopher, executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization, or SIEDO. “He participates in a lot of our economic development activities, and he just happened to be going,” she said. “He didn’t go because they were making a connection; he was just ready on deck.”

photo of kelly anthon
Sen. Kelly Anthon

“I’d done business in Japan,” Anthon said. “Especially the small and midsize businesses, they don’t go out on their own and go overseas.” But the owner of Sakae Casting realized that when a business’ market is exhausted domestically, it’s important to look at foreign markets for expansion, he said.

Foreign direct investment, or FDI, is a relatively recent focus of the Idaho Department of Commerce. Most recently, the state sent 27 economic development professionals, including Lt. Gov. Brad Little and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, to the SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington, D.C., in June. Idaho, which was attending the event for the fourth time, was a second-year Diamond-level sponsor, the highest level.

The first such investment was Frulact, a Portuguese fruit processing company looking to site a new factory in Idaho. Frulact makes the fruit that goes in yogurt, and it was attracted by the Chobani plant in Twin Falls, Anthon said. The company, which first announced its intentions in 2013, has bought property but hasn’t yet built its factory, he said. However, though it has since built a facility in Canada, it still intends to build its first U.S. facility in Rupert, Rogers said.

“Everyone had the light bulb turn on,” Anthon said. “Idaho generally – this is not a criticism – didn’t realize the full potential of attracting foreign direct investment. The Frulact project really opened our eyes to that.”

In addition to Sakae and Frulact, other FDI projects in Idaho include Ohzen Precision Machining Cutting, a Japanese company setting up shop in Idaho Falls to make titanium after-market parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and a partner of Sakae; and McCain Foods, a Canadian food processing company with a facility in Burley.

This is all happening as FDI is actually dropping. A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm, said the U.S. was the top-ranked FDI destination in its 2017 A.T. Kearney Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index report. But the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Global Investment Trends Monitor earlier this year said that global FDI had dropped by 16 percent in 2017, which the organization attributed to elevated geopolitical risks and policy uncertainty, as well as U.S. tax reforms.

In November, the Idaho Department of Commerce awarded a nearly $238,000 Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) grant to the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies to partner with Sakae Casting on research and development on spent nuclear fuel storage and cooling capabilities, according to a blog post written by Lisa Buddecke, a marketing consultant for Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho.

Anthon speaks to federal audience

Kelly Anthon, Rupert city administrator and state senator, recently spoke at the FED Forum, presented by the International Economic Development Council, in Washington, D.C., about how Idaho had used SelectUSA programs for FDI.  “I talked about how rural communities can utilize all the resources, including from the federal government, to drive economic development success,” he said.

SelectUSA is a U.S. government program intended to promote and facilitate business investment in the U.S. It works with companies and U.S. economic development organizations to provide information, facilitate direct connections, and resolve questions regarding federal regulations. In addition, it provides a promotional platform for U.S. state and local governments.

“Kelly Anthon’s remarks on how rural America can successfully compete for Foriegn Direct Investment tapping federal agencies like SelectUSA really resonated with our attendees,” said Matt Mullin, senior director of public policy and strategic engagement with the International Economic Development Council in Washington DC.

Home court for Idaho Vandals basketball will be the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena

A new 78,000-square-foot basketball arena at the University of Idaho will feature mass timber. It’s scheduled for completion in 2020. Photo courtesy of Opsis Architecture.
A new 78,000-square-foot basketball arena at the University of Idaho will feature mass timber. It’s scheduled for completion in 2020. Photo courtesy of Opsis Architecture.

The University of Idaho has given naming rights for its future basketball arena in Moscow to the Idaho Central Credit Union following a $10 million cash gift from the Chubbuck-based credit union, both entities announced Jan. 4.

Idaho Central Credit Union has only four of its 33 branches in northern Idaho, but committed the largest cash donation that the University of Idaho has ever received to name the arena the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena for 35 years.

ICCU only opened its first northern Idaho branches 2½ years ago in Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden and on Jan. 1 added a Pierce branch as ICCU took over the White Pine Credit Union.

“We’re looking for property in Moscow and Lewiston,” ICCU spokeswoman Laura Smith said. “Presently we don’t have any timelines.”

The credit union expects to open more branches in northern Idaho in future years, she said.

“Investing in the university is a step for us to do that,” Smith said.

University of Idaho has now raised $34 million of the $45 million it needs to build a 62,000-square-foot, 4,200-seat engineered wood structure. Opsis Architecture of Portland, Oregon is the architect and Hoffman Construction of Portland is the general contractor.

Groundbreaking will be scheduled when the $45 million has been raised.

“The hope is we can break ground in spring 2019,” said Jodi Walker, director of university communications at U  of I. “We can do that sooner if we can close that ($11 million) gap sooner. We hope for completion for the 2021-22 season.”

L.A. developer readies to build student housing in Boise, Moscow

The Identity on Main will be student housing in Moscow with 398 beds in 133 units. Image courtesy of Eran Fields.
The Identity on Main, shown here, is a proposed student housing project in Moscow with 398 beds in 133 units. Image courtesy of Eran Fields.

Los Angeles developer Eran Fields expects to start construction in March on student housing projects in Boise and Moscow, both across the street from Boise State University and the University of Idaho, respectively.

Fields, principal at Fields Holdings, expects to finish both projects in July 2018. He is developing them in partnership with CA Student Living, a division of Chicago-based CA Ventures, which operates about 30 student housing complex in state university cities in 15 states.

Fields and CA Student Living will co-develop the Boise and Moscow projects and CA Student Living will operate them. CA Living also operates Fields Holdings’ LIV Seattle student housing, Identity Reno, Identity Seattle, Icon and Icon Gardens in Santa Barbara, Calif. Fields and CA are now building student housing near the University of Missouri.

The Boise project tentatively is called The Identity and will have 94 apartments with 295 beds on a triangular property wedged into Boise Avenue, Beacon Street and Oakland Avenue.

The Identity will be student housing at Boise Avenue and Beacon Street. Image courtesy of Eran Fields.
The Identity, shown here, is planned student housing at Boise Avenue and Beacon Street. Image courtesy of Eran Fields.

The Moscow housing is called The Identity on Main and will have 133 units with 398 beds in a mix of apartment and townhome buildings. The Moscow property at Main Street and Troy Road is 6 acres, much larger than the 1.1-acre site in Boise.

The Moscow project will also have a 3,000-square-foot retail space for which a tenant has not been confirmed, Fields said.

The architect for the Boise project is David Ruby at The Architects Office in Boise. The Moscow architect is Thom Jess of Arris Studio Architects in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Meridian-based ESI Construction is general manager for both.

PARK(ing) Day will claim parking spaces in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Moscow

In prior years, Kootenai Environmental Alliance took part in PARK(ing) Day in Coeur d'Alene.
In earlier years, Kootenai Environmental Alliance took part in PARK(ing) Day in Coeur d’Alene. Photo courtesy of Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

At least three Idaho entries will take part Sept. 16 in PARK(ing) Day, an open-source global event to convert parking places into temporary public places, or “parklets.”

Every year since 2005 on the third Friday of September, PARK(ing) Day participants in cities around the world have unleashed their creativity to fill parking spaces for one day with knick-knacks and structures.

PARK(ing) Day’s goal is to show the importance of parks and open spaces in urban areas, said Cynthia Gibson, executive director of the Idaho Walk Bike Alliance.

Gibson will use donated landscaping, possibly a bicycle and some sort of seating to create her PARK(ing) Day parklet on Eighth Street in Boise in front of Bittercreek Alehouse/Red Feather Lounge.

“I have been looking for a way to do placemaking on the street,” Gibson said. ”We’re seeing it around communities more and more as a way to reclaim public space. I want to engage people and show that there is a way to enjoy space in a way that is not to park a car.”

Coeur d’Alene is staging its second “PARK(ing) It on Sherman,” a three-day block party that closes down a block of Sherman Avenue targeted for revitalization. Within the bigger celebration, two parklets will be created: Roger’s Ice Cream & Burgers will have a table on the street; and artificial turf will be the basis of another in the parking lot of Petersons Family Foods, said Hilary Anderson, Coeur d’Alene’s community development director.

Elsewhere on Sherman between 12th and 13th streets, there will be benches and planters and a movie screening.

Coeur d’Alene has a history with PARK(ing) Day. From 2009 to 2012, the Kootenai Environmental Alliance staged PARK(ing) Day festivities with five to 10 parklets on a different stretch of Sherman and on a lakefront parking lot that eventually became McEuen Park, Executive Director Adrienne Cronebaugh said.

“We were advocating for the Mceuen Park renovation, which is finished today,” Cronebaugh said. “When we were doing the PARK(ing) Day events, McEuen Park was just a huge parking lot and a baseball field.”

Eleven University of Idaho landscape architecture students will set up a PARK(ing) Day space somewhere in Moscow, UofI spokeswoman Holly Funk said.

Long-awaited northern Idaho education corridor starts to take shape

The site plan for the proposed "education corridor" at North Idaho College. Image courtesy of North Idaho College.
The site plan for the proposed “education corridor” at North Idaho College. Image courtesy of North Idaho College.

The seven-year quest to build a shared facility for North Idaho College, the University of Idaho, and Lewis-Clark State College has achieved a groundbreaking date and proposed opening date with the recent hiring of an architectural team.

The Idaho Division of Public Works in April selected H2A Architects of Coeur d’Alene and Integrus Architecture of Spokane to build a two-story, 30,000-square-foot structure on the NIC campus. It’s the first embodiment of a regional concept for an education corridor bringing together five institutions at one site.

Groundbreaking for the $9.7 million North Idaho Collaborative Education facility in Coeur d’Alene is expected next spring, and occupancy is slated for fall 2018, said Mark Browning, NIC’s vice president for communications and governmental relations.

The North Idaho College Foundation in 2009 bought 17 acres adjacent to the college that had been the former Stimson Lumber Co. mill to create a continuous “education corridor” between U.S. 95 and Lake Coeur d’Alene. The intention is to develop a shared campus on 12 buildable acres for satellite facilities for the University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark, Boise State University and Idaho State University and expanded space for NIC.

This consortium in 2010 envisioned a $21 million, 70,000- to 80,000-square-foot collaborative education building with a potential opening date in 2013.

“To be real honest, it was a reality check,” Browning said. “That was total pie in the sky. When we looked at it, we said, ‘We can do it at this size (30,000 square feet for $9.7 millon).'”

The North Idaho Collaborative Education facility is expected to have 16 classroom for 30 to 40 students and student services such as registration, financial aid and counseling for the three institutions. The institutions have not determined which courses will be offered in the new facility, Browning said. U of I and Lewis-Clark now have a Coeur d’Alene satellite campus in the  former Osprey Hotel building, which is owned by the city.

UI gets started on old courthouse renovation for College of Law

The Old Ada County Courthouse will see new life as the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center. Photo courtesy of Lee Dillion.
The Old Ada County Courthouse will see new life as the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center. Photo courtesy of Lee Dillion.

Work is expected to start this month on transforming the Old Ada County Courthouse into the new Boise home for the University of Idaho College of Law.

National Native American Construction based in Coeur d’Alene won the $3.16 million contract in mid-Dec. to remodel and restore the 1939 structure to house UI’s Boise law school, the Idaho Supreme Court Library, other Supreme Court offices, and space for civic education for the general public.

UI will call the building the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center when the College of Law moves its Boise law school to the old courthouse for the fall 2015 semester, said Lee Dillion, the law school’s associate dean for Boise programs.

The College of Law is based in Moscow but has had a Boise program for third-year law students since 2010 in the University of Idaho Water Center on Front Street. Fall 2014 saw the start of Boise courses for second-year law students. Eventually, university  officials hope to see a full three-year UI law program in Boise.

“The initial proposal was to start a full three-year program in Boise,” Dillion said. “The state Board of Education thought we’d be better served by offering the third year first. If it turns out there is the demand and interest, we would at some point look at adding a first year. We’ll move on that at a time that it is appropriate.”

In the meantime, UI College of Law students in Boise will be among the very few in the nation to be within steps from the classroom to the state Legislature, Supreme Court and county courthouse. Historically, state capitals and universities with law schools were built in different cities – as was the case in Idaho.

Lee Dillion
Lee Dillion

“For a law student, they will be in the middle of where law is made,” Dillion said. “This is an opportunity for students to engage very early with the legislative and judicial branches and the private sector.

“If you’re bored that day for an evidentiary class, you can head to the Ada County Courthouse and watch three trials in the morning and then head to the Supreme Court and watch an appeal,” Dillion said.

Ada County abandoned the Old Courthouse in February 2002 and subsequently sold the building to the state, which used it as a temporary home for the Legislature while the Capitol was renovated in 2008-09.

UI considered using the renovations made for the Legislature but decided to do a thorough overhaul. The state budgeted $2 million to “bring the building back to a usable building,” and another $950,000 for College of Law tenant improvements, including inner walls, ceilings, carpeting and audio-visual equipment, and $89,000 for the Supreme Court, Dillion said.

The Supreme Court Library will occupy the entire second floor. The College of Law manages the court’s library, which now is at the Water Center. The Supreme Court will also have space on the smaller fourth floor for support staff.

The first floor will have two College of Law classrooms, a clinic and a student study area. The third floor will have faculty offices and two large classrooms, Dillion said.

Dillion said the Idaho Law & Justice Center will play four roles. Beyond the College of Law and Supreme Court Library, the facility will also allow the Supreme Court to expand its continuing education program for judges, clerks, staff and deputies. The college and court together will also formalize civil legal education programs for the general public, especially high school and college students, Dillion said.

“We want the law school and the Supreme Court more involved in public outreach,” he said.