What Does COVID-19 Mean for the WCC Campus Additions?

Due to the current pandemic, Whatcom Community College has been forced to slow construction and potentially postpone its opening of the Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons and Cedar Hall on-campus housing.

As Whatcom adapts to online learning, the leaders at the forefront of these operations have been tasked with attempts to move forward while abiding by the government mandated rules and health restrictions.

While the decade-long projects have been “deemed essential,” the future for these facilities remains unknown.

“It has taken a long time to get to this point only to be met with the pandemic,” said Vice President for Administrative Services Nathan Langstraat.

Senior Director of Facilities and Operations Brian Keeley said the Self Learning Commons and Cedar Hall are scheduled to open for the start of fall quarter 2020.

While the Learning Commons is a state-funded project, Cedar Hall is reliant on rental income and operational expenses for the building to support the budget.

Potential residents continue to apply for on-campus living and Whatcom has been “fiscally responsible” allowing them to leverage funds to support housing through the pandemic.

Although financially stable for the time being, there is a chance that in order to open these facilities they will have to run at less than 50 percent occupancy until operations can return to normal.

Keeley said this will mean “following distancing protocol, increased availability to hand sanitizer stations, enhanced cleaning efforts, posted safety information, and other best practices to support health and safety awareness.”

Attitudes have remained positive Langstraat said.

“We have a lot of great partners and colleagues in higher education that have been running housing for a long time that can provide us with advice and guidance” said Langstraat.

As far as the Learning Commons go, when authorized “by the governor, [we] will provide on campus resources to students. Again, all of that is couched within whatever safety requirements are in place,” said Langstraat.

Some technological resources include laptops and hotspots available for checkout, and free drive-up wi-fi.

The Learning Center, one of the school’s biggest resources for writing and math tutoring, is still open and available to students but has moved online to Zoom. These meetings can include online group study sessions, quick questions, or one-on-one tutoring.

The switch to online has been difficult for some faculty and students.

“We’ve had people show up and they thought they were in the wrong place and they just left,” said Director of the Learning Center Jason Babcock.

A multi-week mission is in place to continue to keep pushing support to students, and to let them know the Learning Center is available to them and that their resources extend farther than just Google.

Not only is the Learning Center focused on helping their students, but also its essential employees.

“A big part of that is making sure that students that are employees have a paycheck. We have a ton of employees using this tutoring as a way to make ends meet,” Babcock said.

The faculty are making sure that their employees are able to continue their work.

“If the Learning Center goes down, and it’s a bunch of part-time hourly-paid employees that you could say, ‘no forget it’ to, but they’re the ones that are struggling,” Babcock said.

To better assist students and their staff, the Learning Center has extended their hours and increased the number of tutors they have available.

Babcock said the Whatcom faculty would like their students to know that they are thinking of them.

“We miss having our students on campus and our employees for that matter, most employees are still working from home,” Langstraat said. “There’s just a sense of energy and excitement around campus when the students are here and engaged and I think folks really miss that.”

More information can be accessed on technological resources is available on the Whatcom Community College website or through the Student Help Desk at studenthelpdesk@whatcom.edu. Zoom tutoring can be accessed by signing into Canvas and joining one of the posted meetings. Their hours of operation are 9am to 10am Monday through Thursday, 9am to 5pm on Fridays, noon to 4pm on Saturdays, and 6pm to 10pm on Sundays.

Applications for the Cedar Hall student housing are available through Campus Life on the Whatcom Community College website.

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