Learning Commons awaits green light

By Craig Gabrielson

After nearly a decade of back and forth, Whatcom’s $35-million construction project, the Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons has made the Washington governor’s budget and is now pending state legislature approval. If approved, construction is set to begin in the summer of 2017.


The Self Learning Commons would be the first state-funded construction project for Whatcom since Kulshan Hall was built in 2004. The three-story building would be constructed on the field to the east of Kulshan Hall.
“Whatcom students have been strong advocates for the school to state legislators in support of the project,” said Nate Langstraat, Whatcom’s Vice President of Administrative Services.
Discussion of the project began in 2007. The first attempt to get the project funded was unsuccessful during the Recession of 2oo8.
In the second attempt, the project made the state’s queue, but was very low in priority.
This time around, however, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has the project in his budget with 100 percent of the requested funds allocated, but final approval now rests in the hands of state legislature. This year’s congressional session is scheduled to conclude on April 23, but an extension of negotiations is not uncommon, according to Langstraat.
Since the construction of Kulshan Hall in 2004, Whatcom has seen a student enrollment increase of 16 percent, according to Langstraat.
“We can’t fit classes needed in the schedule due to a lack of classroom space,” Langstraat said. “We can expect growth when classroom space clears up and new programs are added.”
The plan for the new Self Learning Commons is to relocate and consolidate a lot of the student services into one building. Right now, the library and student computer labs are in Heiner, the student testing center is in Laidlaw, and the math and writing centers are in Cascade. All of which will end up consolidated in the Self Learning Commons upon completion.
“This will free up much needed room for traditional lecture style classrooms in the other campus buildings,” said Brian Keeley, Whatcom’s Facilities Director.
“We’re feeling pretty confident. It’s No. 2 on the state capital list for community and technical colleges. We’re positioned pretty well in terms of our funding request,” Keeley said. “Once funding comes, we’re full speed ahead on construction.”
According to the architectural plans, the Self Learning Commons will be a three-story building containing a tutoring center, multi-media resources, study spaces, and other tools for Whatcom students.
The first floor will have a library, computer room, media center, writing center and both group and individual study areas.
The second floor will have a study area and lounge, offices and classrooms, and an outdoor terrace. The third floor will have the testing center, math center, and tutoring rooms.
The third floor will also have a roof terrace, for an outdoor learning setting, according to Keeley.
“Right now we’re at 98 percent with the construction documents,” he said. “We’re reengaging with architects to finish those documents and expecting a bid in April timeframe.”
“Students don’t have enough quiet space, nor enough collaborative study space for group work. [The Learning Commons] offers the flexibility to get all of the services in one place for both incoming and current students,” Keeley added.
The building will be named after Phyllis and Charles Self, whose continuing service has earned them that honor.
Phyllis Self served as a Whatcom trustee and is currently on the Whatcom Foundation board of directors.
“Phyllis and Charles Self have been longtime supporters of the Whatcom community,” Langstraat said. “They have given significant financial support to Whatcom and general support to the community.”
“We do plan on having a groundbreaking ceremony if funding is approved and we’re hoping for construction to start in late July,” Keeley said.
If funding is approved and all goes as planned, the Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons will open its doors in the fall quarter of 2019.


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