New Whatcom Community College building replicates hospital rooms, real-world venues

Public-private partnership built $8.4M project

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 25, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - About 300 students in Whatcom Community College's Health Professions programs started school in a brand new facility as classes started for fall quarter Wednesday, Sept. 25.

The new Health Professions Education Center offers state-of-the-art classroom spaces that mimic real-life venues for students in the school's nursing, medical assistant, physical therapist assistant and massage practitioner programs. The facility was designed to replicate environments such as waiting and hospital rooms, and may offer public clinic services in the future, according to school spokeswoman Mary Vermillion.

Students in the health programs used to have separate lab and classroom spaces, sometimes spread between buildings, but in the new facility, everything is centralized, said Nate Langstraat, Whatcom's vice president for administrative services.

The building, located on Cordata Parkway and Stuart Road, was completed in one year as part of a public-private partnership that could serve as a model for other higher education construction projects. A private partner paid to construct the 28,502-square-foot building, paying a total of $8.4 million for the land and the structure, Langstraat said.

The partner is leasing the building to the Whatcom Community College Foundation, which in turn is sub-leasing the space to the school for $16.40 per square foot, Langstraat said. Similar types of buildings in the state would range between $25 and $40 per square foot, he said.

The WCC Foundation also has the ability to buy the building when it chooses to do so, Langstraat said.

"I think that is the goal, perhaps even in the short term," he said. The foundation is looking for donors who might be interested in funding the purchase, which could have low interest rates through a nonprofit, he said.

The school decided to look into the private partnership to supplement state capital project funding. The college already had a learning commons project in the cue for capital project funding during the 2013-2015 biennium, and because of that, would be ineligible to submit a project for the next round, Langstraat said.

"What's kind of neat is when we were meeting with legislators over the last few years, they encouraged us to partner with private when and where we can, knowing the state capital process has slowed down," Langstraat said.

The building freed up 20,000 square feet of office, lab and classroom space on campus. The school will renovate that space for other use, such as computer labs and updated classrooms.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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