If you build it, they will come.
Turns out you don’t need to be Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams” standing in an Iowa cornfield to hear voices — a community college in the middle of Bellingham will suffice. And much like Kinsella, Whatcom Community College decided to listen to the voices and build something much grander.
Instead of plowing under a portion of a cornfield to build a baseball diamond, WCC decided to gut parts of its nearly 20-year old Whatcom Pavilion, refurbish other portions and nearly double its size in a $13 million project to create a beautiful new Pavilion and Student Recreation Center that should now serve as a hub for campus life.
And those voices? They weren’t just some mysterious whisper in the breeze. In this case it was the voice of the students at WCC, and these voices did more than just talk, as they stepped up to support, champion and help plan the project and then put their money where their mouth was to fund it.
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“It’s been the students driving the whole thing,” WCC senior director for facilities and operations Brian Keeley said. “They’ve been involved since Day 1 of the concept to selecting the architect to programing and design to construction and selecting the artist.”
In fact, it was the students who began seeing the need for something new about five years after the Pavilion originally opened in 1995.
“Students realized we needed something more,” current Associated Students of WCC (ASWCC) president Aldo Suseno said. “There wasn’t enough storage, it was over crowded, there was no social area and there was a lack of office space.”
Put it this way, when the Orca basketball teams had so split into two or even three groups to utilize a workout area that measured approximately 600 square feet, how were the rest of the 6,817 credit-seeking students possibly supposed to fit?
PE classes often had to stretch and workout in hallways.
Not a problem anymore, as the new fitness area is nearly nine times bigger and is haloed by a 440-foot, three-lane indoor track on the second floor, leaving more than enough room for every WCC student to come and work out. And that’s not counting two new studio rooms perfect for yoga, dance, Zoomba, Tai Chi or even hosting meetings.
Add in a gym that received some cosmetic improvements and a reworked team and office area, and it’s easy to see why there is so much excitement off Cordata Parkway.
And it is the centerpiece for what WCC sees as a gathering spot for for the entire Orca community.
“One of the things for us is we hope it keeps students on campus and involved more in campus life, in general,” Keeley said. “Rather than taking off for two to three hours between classes and going home or somewhere else, maybe they’ll come here and work out or hang out.”
There is now plenty of space to do both.
Surrounding the open fitness center is large gathering area, both inside and out, that will be highlighted by a juice bar and screens listing upcoming athletic and campus events, enticing students to come socialize and become a bigger part of campus life.
“I think we were missing that space for students to come and build community,” WCC associate director of student life Laura Singletary said. “The access here is really exciting. The students had the vision and championed this for our campus.”
After years of discussions and planning, student representatives sat down with designers in 2011 for initial plans on the project.
The student government polled 1,100 students, and 80 percent approved using student funds to pay for the improvements, and over $1 million was used in ASWCC funding to get the project rolling, ASWCC director of operations Tyler Gilmore said.
“That was definitely student led,” Gilmore said. “It was a coordination with everybody. It’s pretty amazing.”
So was the fact that students agreed to a fee of $6.32 per credit up to 15 credits ($94.80) beginning last year and lasting the length of the 20-year loan to pay for the project. In fact, a number of former students who were at WCC when plans to improve the Pavilion began have stepped up to help pay for the construction, Keeley said.
WCC will pay the extra operations costs of the larger facility, which Keeley estimated to be around $30,000 per year for increased utility bills, the hiring of new building manager/rec center coordinator and increased custodial and maintenance costs.
But there is no doubt that this was the students’ project.
In addition to getting a sparkling new facility that the entire campus can utilize, a generation of WCC student leaders got hands-on experience working on a major project, Singletary said.
“The college was very inclusive of the students and made sure they were present at every meeting,” said Stan Jaworowski, a senior associate/project architect/project manager for Seattle-based SRG Partnership, the designer of the project. “They in large part made the priorities for this project. ... Now, I have worked on similar projects to this, and this the the first one that that has been the case.”
Not surprisingly, the students are proud of what they have built.
After construction began June 23, 2014, the Pavilion re-opened on Sept. 22.
“I was here the first day — I think I was one of the first ones in here — and it was phenomenal,” Gilmore said. “I know when I first came in here ... I couldn’t wait to use it. I was just pumped. To actually be able to come in the morning and have something that is so close and nice — it’s great. I love it.”
Whatcom Pavilion key numbers
Size of new Whatcom Pavilion in square feet after construction.
Size of Whatcom Pavilion in square feet before construction.
Construction cost to renovate and expand Whatcom Pavilion.
Per credit fee (up to 15 credits for $94.80) most WCC students will pay over the course of a 20-year loan to fund the project.
Size of renovated space in square feet.
Approximate size of added space to Pavilion during construction.
Months it took for construction on Pavilion project.
Of 1,100 students approved using student funds for the Pavilion project in a survey conducted before the project began.
Years since WCC students first started talking about improving the Whatcom Pavilion to create a bigger fitness center, more storage, more office space and an area for social gathering.