By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
Students attending Whatcom Community College may soon have an easier time finding a place to live. The school is planning on building new on-campus housing that is slated to open in two years.
The school went through the permitting process this summer.
It’s scheduled to break ground in September and open for students to start moving in in August 2020.
The building will be four stories, 90,000 square feet, and house around 230 students.
Dorms will be suite-style, with individual bedrooms with shared bathrooms and living space.
There will also be room for the existing residents life staff to move to the first floor.
The $28-million project is funded through a state bond program.
The school will use its rental income to pay back the debt over 25 years.
Currently, Whatcom master leases rooms in nearby apartment complexes that it leases students.
In total, it currently has 164 beds in private apartments buildings available for students.
Offering housing on-campus offers a few different advantages to students.
It allows students to build more of a community, and be more engaged in campus life.
Research shows that students who are engaged in campus life have better outcomes academically, Nathan Langstraat, Whatcom’s vice president for administrative services, said.
The building’s proximity to the bus station will allow students easy transportation both on campus and off.
Plus, housing on campus might make parents feel better about sending their kids off to Whatcom.
“The parents of those students (have) a sense of safety and security around on-campus housing that is affiliated directly with the college,” Langstraat said.
Students have been asking for on-campus housing for a while, Langstraat said.
“The demand has been evident over several years,” he said.
Demand for housing comes from student athletes and international students, but also many regular students who are from the area want to live on campus as well.
“We also have a growing demand within our local (population),” Langstraat said.
“Our vacancy rate here in Bellingham, and specifically with the Cordata neighborhood, is less than 1 percent,” Langstraat said.
Even with new development projects in the works, the school’s forecasts show the vacancy rate around the school will stay below 5 percent over the next five years, which is still a tight market.
Offering on-campus housing will allow the school to control the prices it charges students, even as nearby rental rates rise.
Increasingly, community colleges are beginning to offer on-campus housing.
“It’s a trend we’re seeing more broadly across the state,” Langstraat said. “At least a third of them have some form of student housing.”
Many of those community colleges, including Bellevue College and Everett Community College, are also located in communities with tight rental markets.
The housing facility is the second major construction project Whatcom is starting this year.
The Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons broke ground this spring, and is also expected to be complete in 2020.
The 65,328-square-foot building will concentrate many of the schools existing self-learning, study and library spaces into one building, which will free up desperately needed classroom space across campus, Langstraat said.
The learning commons was originally planned begin earlier, but was held up because of delays in state capital budget approval.
Now construction on both buildings will happen at the same time.
“Those two programs will really dovetail nicely,” Langstraat said.”It’s definitely a nice tie-in.”