Here's good news for Whatcom's rebounding construction industry

Construction crews demolish the Western bookstore to make way for the new Multicultural Center on Friday, April 20, at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
Construction crews demolish the Western bookstore to make way for the new Multicultural Center on Friday, April 20, at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

It's going to be a busy summer for construction projects at Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College, and that will mean another boost for the local economy.

Western recently started two construction projects with each costing more than $20 million, while Whatcom Community College recently broke ground on its Phyllis & Charles Self Learning Commons, a $34.9 million project. The community college also plans to break ground this fall on a residential housing project valued at around $21.5 million.

Western also has a variety of other projects this summer, including roof replacement and upgrades in areas like lighting and labs. The total dollar amount for these WWU projects is around $51 million. This comes on the heels of the Carver building renovation, a multi-year project that cost around $73 million.

"While we don't have a single large project similar to Carver this year, we will have a busy spring and summer with multiple medium- to small-sized projects," said Josh Kavulla, associate director in Western's Office of Facilities Development and Capital Budget.

All these campus projects mean construction jobs for an industry that's been bouncing back in Whatcom County following a long downturn that started in 2008. Last spring, the number of Whatcom County people in construction jobs jumped 25 percent compared to the previous year. It remained strong throughout the summer and fall.

The start of 2018 indicates continued job growth in construction. In February, typically a slow time of year for the industry, 8,300 people in Whatcom County were employed in construction, according to the state's Employment Security Division. That's 1,300 more people employed in construction than in February 2017.

For the past year, the industry's problem is keeping up with the growth.

"The biggest challenge contractors are facing in our area is the shortage of skilled craft labor," said Liz Evans, the northern district manager of the Associated General Contractors of Washington. She added that public works sector has been a big reason for the boost in construction jobs locally.

Here's a list of the major projects at Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College in the coming months:

Western Washington University

Multicultural Center: This expansion project will combine the Multicultural Center, Viking Union, bookstore, a multipurpose room and the radio station KUGS into one building. It is expected to be completed by June 2019. Work is being done by Bellingham's Dawson Construction.

Buchanan Towers: Work has just started on this residential hall, which will be done in two phases in the spring/summer of 2018 and 2019, when fewer student residents on campus. Parts of the original building, which was built in 1971, will be closed during renovation. Renovation work includes bathrooms, kitchens, plumbing, ventilation, fire detection and security systems. Some renovation work will also include the addition on the east side built in 2011. Dawson Construction is also the general contractor on this project.

Relocation of disAbility Resources for Students and Veteran Services: This project will move these programs to the west end of Wilson Library. The project is expected to to finish up in August.

Other summer work: Several roofing projects, ventilation, classroom and lighting upgrades across campus. New decks and railings for Birnam Wood apartments.

Whatcom Community College

Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons: A ground-breaking ceremony took place earlier this month for the 65,328-square-foot building, which is similar in size to the Meridian Haggen grocery store. It is scheduled to open in 2020 and will be home to several services, including WCC's library, writing and math centers and a tutoring area. It is on the corner of Kellogg Road and Cordata Parkway and the general contractor is Blaine's Colacurcio Brothers.

Student housing project: This is expected to break ground this fall, finishing up in 2020. It will be near the Cordata Bus Station on Cordata Parkway and Orca Lane. Everson's Tiger Construction is the general contractor for the three-story building, which will have four-bedroom, two-bedroom and studio offerings for a total of around 225 beds, according to WCC.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz