Western is planning several big projects, including one that addresses housing

New residence hall at WWU planned to open in 2021

Western Washington University is building a new residence hall designed to help retain upper division students, mitigating the demand in the Bellingham, Wash., rental market.
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Western Washington University is building a new residence hall designed to help retain upper division students, mitigating the demand in the Bellingham, Wash., rental market.

Western Washington University is embarking on three major construction projects that will address on-campus housing and student services.

Starting this year the university is planning to build a residence hall and an academic support facility, while construction of a new science building is expected to start in January, according to a Western news release. It will take about two years to complete the science building and residence hall, while the academic support building should be ready in the fall of 2020.

The budget for the residence hall and science building total $131.5 million, while the academic support facility has a budget of about $10 million. The legislature will need to approve funding for the science and academic support buildings, which are in the proposed legislative budgets. The residence hall is self-funded through the University Residence system, said Paul Cocke, Western’s communications director, in an email.

He added that these three building projects will bring a strong economic benefit to the area’s already busy construction industry. He estimates these projects will require hundreds of workers.

Here are the details for each of the WWU projects:

New residence to replace Highland Hall

The new residence hall is going in the current location of Highland Hall and Highland Lounge. The Highland buildings will be demolished in September, with construction starting soon after. The new hall is expected to be ready for the fall quarter of 2021.

The new hall will have about 400 beds, creating a net gain of 264 beds after accounting for the loss of spots at Highland Hall, according to the news release.

Design of the building is currently underway. It is expected to have laundry and storage facilities with kitchenettes in some units and separate study areas. It might also have a cafe. Students are being consulted on design and features.

The new hall is being designed to appeal to a variety of students, including upperclassmen. This may help lessen demand on the local real estate rental market, according to the news release.

During construction, one other impact will be the closure of a nearby parking lot, known as 14G. Before that lot closes, a temporary lot will be built near Morse Hall.

The rental housing market for students off campus has been tight for years, resulting in several private developments geared toward students. A project called Stateside will have 513 beds on North State Street and is projected to be ready in the fall of 2021. Similar projects completed in recent years include NXNW near the Lakeway Fred Meyer and Gather Bellingham on 900 N. Forest St.

With the rental market remaining tight, Cocke said they are seeing more students wanting to live on campus, adding that there is usually a wait list in the fall quarter. He noted the university has leased space in off-campus apartments to help handle the overflow. Leasing apartment space is also the plan when Highland is demolished and before the new residence hall is complete.

WWU new residence hall jpg
Western Washington University announced Thursday that it will build a new residence hall on the site of the current Highland Hall and Highland Lounge at the Ridgeway complex of WWU residence halls. Western Washington University Courtesy to The Bellingham Heral

Science building will have labs, learning spaces

The new Interdisciplinary Science Building will be near the current biology building and have about 50,000 square feet of space.

If construction starts in January, the four-story building is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021. The labs and classroom spaces will be for a variety of science-oriented degrees.

Academic Support facility for staff

This facility will be just south of the main campus, on the 900 block of 25th St. It’ll be a two-story structure with 14,000 square feet of space.

Cocke said exactly what staff will go into the new building is still being determined, but the goal is to free up more space for classrooms and labs in the core part of campus.

Western is planning a public informational presentation about these projects at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17. It will be held at the Library Lecture Room in the Bellingham Public Library.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.