Western Washington University’s Sam Carver Gymnasium will temporarily re-open to the public Saturday to host the university’s spring commencement.
The gym has been closed since August 2015, when a $75 million renovation project began. Since the closure, commencement ceremonies had been held at Western’s Performing Arts Center.
During the spring commencement, the gym’s arena and restrooms will be open, while all other areas of the Carver complex remain closed pending the finish of construction. A field between Carver and the SMATE building also eventually will be restored after serving as a staging area for construction.
Mary Gallagher, Western’s publications editor, said the gymnasium and adjoining entryway are finished except for small details like paint touch-ups. The City of Bellingham has already inspected and approved the areas which will re-open for commencement.
The gym’s seating capacity of 2,534 people was reduced by eight seats, as bleachers needed to accommodate new swinging backboards in an upper gym. Seats were replaced by old bleachers, though the bleachers themselves were only refurbished.
Although the gym will once again close following commencement, Jeff Evans, Western’s sports information officer, said summer basketball and volleyball camps are expected to take place there in July. The WWU basketball and volleyball teams have played their home games at the Whatcom Community College Pavilion for the past two seasons.
Carver Gym opened in 1962 and is named for Sanford E. Carver, Western’s first athletic director and chair of the physical education department from 1914 to 1955. The building was constructed on a bog, requiring pilings to be inserted into the ground before the foundation could be laid, according to the university.
Through the years, many famous acts have performed in the gymnasium, including Duke Ellington, Simon & Garfunkel, Ike and Tina Turner and the Harlem Globetrotters. Vice President Hubert Humphrey also spoke inside the building.
Overall, the renovation project seeks to bring the Carver facility up-to-date, providing seismic reinforcement, updating safety features like fire alarms and security systems, and improving disabled access to classrooms, labs and offices.
Gallagher said workers gutted the building and almost completely rebuilt it. Although the project fell slightly behind schedule due to an unusually wet winter and a glazer strike in Seattle, it’s still on-track to open to the public at the beginning of fall quarter. A grand reopening ceremony is planned for October.
The renovation expanded the size of Carver by nearly 58,000 square feet, bringing its total area to nearly 164,000 square feet. Most of the new space in the building is comprised of classrooms, labs, offices and support offices.
Much of that space will benefit the departments of Athletics, Campus Recreation and Health and Human Development (formerly Physical Education, Health and Recreation). HHD is one of the university’s largest departments and offers degree programs in careers related to kinesiology, P-12 physical education and health, community health education and recreation.
The project received $70 million from Washington state’s capital budget, of which the university will pay back $6 million over 20 years. Western also contributed $5 million of institutional funding to the renovation.
Western estimates more than 1,000 workers – about 150 to 200 a day – have taken part in the project, helping generate approximately $44 million in economic activity in Whatcom County.