When Whatcom Community College students began raising the idea of expanding and improving the Whatcom Pavilion 10 to 15 years ago, it was because there simply was not enough space. Now that the $13 million project is nearing completion and the Pavilion is nearly twice as large, it seemly has enough space for just about everybody.
The Pavilion previously hosted the Bellingham Slam and Bellingham Roller Betties, among others, and the newly renovated facility will welcome a whole new tenant now that construction is done. The Western Washington University volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams will call the Pavilion home for the next 18 months to two years while the Carver Academic Facility undergoes its own $70 million revitalization.
Hosting two colleges took some scheduling magic, as the Pavilion this winter will host 49 men’s and women’s college basketball games — 29 of which belong to Western.
“It’s a benefit to us,” WCC senior director for facilities and operation Brian Keeley said. “It’s been a great partnership. It took a lot of planning from their athletics, our athletics and our student life folks to accommodate everyone’s needs in this one facility, which is smaller than what they’re used to. But everybody cooperated and collaborated, and I think it was well worth the work.”
In fact, it was the Vikings who got to break in the Pavilion’s refurbished floor first, as the WWU volleyball team had two home matches before the Orcas’ home debut on Sept. 23.
Seeing Bellingham’s two colleges work together to utilize a facility is nothing new. WWU previously rented Orca Field to host soccer games before it opened the on-campus Robert S. Harrington Field last fall.
And just like they did then, WCC coaches see this as an opportunity to showcase their college and athletes.
“It brings a lot of their fans, who would never come to our campus, on campus to see what we’ve got going on,” WCC men’s basketball coach and student recreation center coordinator David Dunham said. “It changes the perception of our campus and our school.”
Keeley added that having Western coaches on campus also might help get more WCC athletes to Western once they finish playing for the Orcas, and the money Whatcom gets from hosting WWU and other events doesn’t hurt either.
Though the Orcas are happy to play host for the Vikings, there are some areas of their sparkling new home WCC will keep solely for its student athletes and coaches. The refurbished men’s and women’s varsity locker rooms only will be used by WCC teams, as will the new team room.
Western, which will practice elsewhere, will use the day-use lockers at the other end of the building to suit out and a studio room for meetings on game day, Keeley said.
“We wanted to keep some things specifically for our teams,” Keeley said.
But Dunham graciously offered advice for how to handle a season in transition, as his team went through the same thing last year during construction of the Pavilion, when the Orcas played home games at Meridian High School.
“It was difficult because we didn’t have a place to call home,” Dunham said. “Even though we had places to practice — we practiced at Cordata — it just wasn’t home, and we struggled a bit creating a team bond. ... You need to spend as much time together away from the basketball court, away from the weight room, away from basketball as possible. Just figure out ways to create team unity. ... If I had to do it again, that’s what I would focus more on — creating team chemistry.”