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Legislature funds WWU’s Carver Gym renovation

Rendering of the renovated Sam Carver Gymnasium scheduled to be completed in spring of 2017. The state Legislature will include $70 million in its capital budget for completion of the project.
Rendering of the renovated Sam Carver Gymnasium scheduled to be completed in spring of 2017. The state Legislature will include $70 million in its capital budget for completion of the project. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The state Legislature will provide $70 million in its capital budget for the long-sought renovation of Western Washington University’s Sam Carver Gymnasium.

In addition to the athletic activities held there, more than 300 classes and labs are taught in the building each year, according to the school.

The university began relocating occupants of the building and securing it for construction earlier this year. The full cost of the construction project has been estimated at $73 million and is scheduled to be completed by spring 2017, said WWU spokesman Paul Cocke.

Out of the $70 million in state funding, $6 million will need to be paid back by Western over a time frame yet to be determined.

Elements of the legislature’s 2015-17 capital budget had not yet been finalized Thursday, but state and school officials were confident project funding would be part of the bill. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed capital budget from December 2014 included $48.9 million in funding for the project plus $16.3 million to be paid back later.

“We deeply appreciate the support from the legislature, particularly our local legislators, for this important and major renovation project,” said WWU President Bruce Shepard.

The current facility does not meet earthquake requirements. Piping failures have dumped thousands of gallons of raw sewage underneath the building, and many mechanical systems have shut down, according to the university.

The renovation will add seismic reinforcement, replace aging systems, and improve access for the disabled. It also will add classrooms for the university’s physical education, health and recreation program, the largest and fastest-growing academic department at Western, Cocke said.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, was one of the main advocates in securing funding for the renovation.

The renovation project received planning funding in 2007, but after the pre-design phase was completed the state did not provide any money for the design in the 2009-11 biennium, Cocke said. The university requested funding for the remodel in 2013, but again funding was left out of the state budget.

“With the passage of this budget, our students and community members will soon have a new, safe place to learn, celebrate and recreate,” Ranker said in an email newsletter. “This has been a top priority for decades and I am honored to have helped finally make this happen.”

The university estimates as many as 200 construction workers will be on site at a time, with additional employment created for suppliers of equipment and materials. The project’s general contractor and construction manager is Mortensen Construction of Kirkland.

Carver Gym is now closed. Commencement ceremonies, usually held there at the end of each quarter, will be moved to the Performing Arts Center in the interim. Athletic events, including men’s and women’s basketball games, will be held at Whatcom Community College while the building is under construction, according to Western.

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.

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