Whatcom Community College remains in expansion mode

Leaders at Whatcom Community College plan to continue a recent spate of building activity for several more years as they move to meet the needs of a growing student population.

Some of the school’s new capital projects include renovations to its gym and student recreation center and the development of a new campus services and technology hub expected to open in fall 2017.

That hub—which has been named the Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons, after two longtime college supporters and scholarship benefactors—will be a 65,000-square-foot facility housing the campus’ library, as well as expanded space for technology, academic support, media and tutoring resources.

Nathan Langstraat, the college’s vice president for administrative services, said in addition to adding new space for an array of student services, particularly the technology resources now vital in college classrooms, the building should also help make the school’s resources more visible to students.

Mary Vermillion, WCC’s public information officer, said the building’s design will feature an open floor plan with lots of room for individual and group study nooks. The open design is meant to encourage impromptu and informal meetups between students, faculty and staff, she said.

Construction is expected to begin in fall 2015, with the project’s bidding process opening in the summer of that year, Vermillion said. The Learning Commons will be installed on an empty plot of college-owned land on West Kellogg Road, just east of Kulshan Hall, which WCC opened in 2004.

The facility’s development cost is estimated at $31.6 million, according to the college. It will be funded by money from the state Legislature.

New expansion at WCC is driven by increased enrollment over the past several years, Vermillion said, as well as a need for more specialized classrooms and facilities. The growing student population means more room is also needed for on-campus study spaces.

The college’s 72-acre campus serves nearly 11,000 students, with the majority earning transfer degrees to four-year universities.

To address the needs, college leaders are in the process of developing a new institutional master plan. Work began in 2012, led by principals from Schreiber Starling & Lane Architects of Seattle.

The plan, which Vermillion said is currently in a draft state, will guide future capital improvements to the school’s buildings and infrastructure. The Learning Commons will be a centerpiece of the new strategic-planning effort.

As future plans develop, several new facilities have recently opened on or near campus.

A new Health Professions Education Center opened last fall, which added more than 20,000 square feet of classrooms and labs for the school’s health care programs.

The center was funded through a unique scheme where a consortium of private developers constructed the building, then leased it to the college through its nonprofit fundraising arm, the WCC Foundation.

Last spring, the school also opened its Auxiliary Services Building, which contains the campus’ facilities department, as well as the copy, print and mail centers. That facility was built using money from the college’s own reserves, Langstraat said.

The building recently earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. All new buildings constructed at the college will be designed to meet LEED standards.

This summer, the college plans to begin a major renovation of its Pavilion, which will feature the addition of a second floor and a total of 22,700 square feet of new space for a fitness center, classrooms for physical education classes and additional locker rooms.

Plans are also in development to renovate Baker Hall, expanding lab and classroom space for the college’s computer science and cybersecurity programs, Vermillion said.

The Learning Commons will be the college’s first facility built using state money since Kulshan Hall opened in 2004. But considering deficits and the budget-wrangling difficulty Olympia lawmakers find themselves revisiting over and over again, relying on money from the state presents some uncertainty.

While the project’s budget has already been trimmed by more than $300,000, Langstraat said college administrators are “cautiously optimistic” that the proposal will not see additional cuts.

Still, administrators are lobbying state lawmakers to ensure funding stays in place, he said.

“All signs look good at this point for the building for the 2015-2017 biennium.” Langstraat said. “[Lawmakers] acknowledge the importance of this project.”

Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com.

Tags: , , , ,

Related Stories