Dig it: WWU Carver Gym renovation underway; will employ 200

As chair of the largest and fastest growing academic department at Western Washington University, LeaAnn Martin had to deal with some facilities challenges.

The Physical Education, Health and Recreation department that she led from 2004 to 2008 is housed in the Carver Academic Facility, which was built in 1936 and is the building that is most in need of repair.

“I taught in the building for 22 years and can recall having to put more than 10 buckets on the floor during my class to catch leaking water from the ceiling,” Martin said in an email. “In one laboratory, pieces of electrical equipment had to be unplugged in order for other pieces to operate.”

Earlier this year, state legislature approved $70 million in funding for a renovation to the Carver building that will employ up to 200 people for more than 18 months during construction. Over the course of the project more than 750 workers will be at the site. The project will increase the number of classrooms, offices, gymnasiums and other facilities.

Jobs associated with the renovation will pay family wages, said Paul Cocke communications director for Western.

The building’s problems include seismic concerns, disability access issues and aging mechanical and electrical systems. The building is in the worst shape of any building on campus and on a recent seismic stability survey it scored five out of 100, Cocke said.

“This was the highest priority on many levels,” he said.  “It was by far our greatest vulnerability in terms of safety and seismic concerns.”

The project will replace the building’s center section with a three-story addition and wrap the east and south sides with glass windows.

Mortenson Construction, a national firm with a Bellevue office, is the project’s general contractor. Diamond B Contractors of Bellingham is the mechanical contractor/construction manager and VECA Electric, also of Bellingham, is the electrical contractor/construction manager.

Local subcontractors will be able to bid and work on projects, Cocke said.

As far as commercial construction projects go, the renovation is huge for the industry but not the biggest local project in recent years, said Liz Evans, northern district manager for the state Association of General Contractors.

“It is a major project but we’ve had many projects that are that big,” she said.

Evans said jobs at Ferndale refineries are the “bread and butter” for local commercial contractors.

The last big construction project at Western was a renovation of Miller Hall, on red square. Renovation of the 134,000-square-foot building was also funded by the state and cost $51.5 million. That project generated 277 direct jobs.

The Carver project has been in the works since 2007, when the state legislature approved pre-design funding. The legislature approved design funding for the project in July 2011, Cocke said. Western was denied construction funding in 2013, but state legislators included it in the budget this year.

Out of the $70 million in funding, $6 million is in the form of “certificates of participation” that will need to be paid back over the next 10 to 20 years, Cocke said.

Other construction projects this summer at Western include roof repairs at the Performing Arts Center and renovations to Nash residence hall to bring it up to code.

The university’s next big project is will be renovating the Environmental Studies Center. Western’s Board of Trustees approved the predesign phase of the project on June 20, and construction is a few years out, Cocke said. The renovation and addition to the 41-year-old building will provide more classroom and instruction space to accommodate a growing number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors at Western, Cocke said.

The cost for that project is estimated at $92.1 million.

Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or olazenby@bbjtoday.com

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