The Press And Journal has learned that a college in Idaho will open a branch campus in Middletown, with a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled soon for a $31 million student center to be built in the borough.
A source from the board of trustees of Central Idaho University who requested anonymity said the school enviously watched the tremendous expansion of Penn State Harrisburg’s growing Middletown campus and wants to grab a share of the town’s fledging cottage industry – higher education.
“If Middletown wants to be a college town, they’re going to get a college town,’’ said the source.
Construction, which is set to begin this fall, will start with a spectacular student center that will rival the $30 million Student Enrichment Center that Penn State’s trustees approved for the Penn State Harrisburg campus last month.
The student center will be erected in the proposed heart of Central Idaho’s future campus – atop the mysterious Ann Street tunnel uncovered by demolition crews while tearing down a ramshackle wood frame house last year, a site that has been up for sale for months after the strange discovery.
Penn State Harrisburg officials would not comment on the apparent beginning of this new chapter of the Middletown area’s future. But some observers believe Central Idaho’s incursion into Blue & White territory marks the opening salvo of a protracted college competition for Middletown’s land and loyalty. “It’s heathy competition,” observed Lirpa Sloof of Middletown. “It’s all about the children, so I’m all for it.”
One sign of a potentially contentious battle for Middletown is Central Idaho’s announcement that its local branch campus will be called “Central Idaho Middletown’’ – or “CIM’’ – as a tribute to the town, while Penn State Harrisburg is named for a city eight miles away. “You can’t throw a textbook on quantum physics out a dormitory window at that campus without hitting Middletown,’’ noted the unnamed source.
Once a bustling military town where shops catered to workers at a nearby Air Force base, Middletown has wrestled with economic and social change during the last 50 years. The borough, Dauphin County’s oldest, watched as the Pentagon closed the Olmsted Air Force Base in the late 1960s, and as Penn State has taken over remnants of the military installation to serve as a campus for its burgeoning student body.
Penn State Harrisburg has grown to about 4,000 full-time students, many of whom have moved into rental properties in Middletown, and recently disclosed plans to purchase additional acreage in the area – an expansion that has sparked hopes for an economic revival, and angst over student rowdiness, among the town’s residents.
“We’ve survived without a coffee shop for 260 years,’’ lamented one resident, who asked not to be named. “Now it looks like we’re going to have a Starbucks on every corner.’’
Borough officials, caught by surprise by the announcement, said town policy prevented them from commenting on the record, but they would say confidentially that they have not studied the potential impact of Central Idaho’s move into Middletown, which is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation of its downtown business district this spring.
Officials did confirm that the borough may include potato vines in planters that could line the sidewalks of the new downtown street scape. A member of a yet-to-be-named community action group, who wished to remain anonymous, said a potato peeling contest may be added to town festivals in 2018 to draw students to the business district.
The CIM source said initiatives will be launched to woo substantial numbers of international students to the local campus, including the offering of a variety of international dishes in its cafeteria alongside baked potatoes, the college’s mascot, at dinner – and noted it recently won its first-ever Psi Tampa Beta National Championship in British Parliamentary Debate.
The CIM campus would feature a yet-commissioned work of art as its centerpiece: a sculpture of Meriwether Lewis, the commander of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through Idaho and much of the Louisiana Purchase, shaking hands with George Fisher, the founder of Middletown. “Does Penn State Harrisburg have a statue of Joe Paterno shaking George Fisher’s hand? I don’t think so,’’ the Central Idaho source said.
A chancellor has not been named, but Central Idaho is considering a list of famous Idahoans to lead the new branch campus. The leading candidate thus far appears to be Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and conservative talk show personality, who was born in Sandpoint, Idaho. Palin is a popular choice among the school’s trustees.
Additional details about the school will be reported as they become available. In the meantime, the source from Central Idaho suggested local residents access the school’s new Web site for full details, www.MustBeAprilFoolsDay.com.