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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Western to expand to Bellingham waterfront

Western is working on a development project to build new facilities on a six-acre plot on Bellingham’s waterfront, said Steve Swan, vice president of University Relations and Community Development.

The plan is to build a Community, Innovation and Engagement Center, a space designed to facilitate new forms of instruction and conference rooms.

The timeline depends on many different factors, including how fast the waterfront project takes off, Swan said.  

“People [say] the full development of the waterfront could take 40-50 years,” he said. “It could be faster. Nobody knows because so many circumstances come into play.”

The Port of Bellingham, the City of Bellingham and the State Department of Ecology have been working together since the early 2000s on the redevelopment of 237 acres along Bellingham’s waterfront, and Western has been an active participant in those discussions, Swan said.

Although Western has not yet purchased land on the waterfront, the six acres have been set aside for university use.

The development of the six acres of land doesn't have a certain completion date but could take anywhere from 40 to 50 years to complete. // Photo by Harrison Amelang
The development of the six acres of land doesn’t have a certain completion date but could take anywhere from 40 to 50 years to complete. // Photo by Harrison Amelang

Swan was a member of the Waterfront Advisory group that developed the Waterfront master plan and said the location of Western’s campus was a factor in expanding to the water.  

“Western’s interest is with the realization that we are in a landlocked campus,” Swan said, “If we were to grow in the future, we would have nowhere to go.”

While Western’s student body has not grown by much in the last few years, the school does not want to be limited by size if enrollment was to increase. Western is the third largest public university in Washington in terms of enrollment, but the smallest in campus size.

“The challenge is if the student body was to grow in the future, we have very little space left to build new buildings,” Swan said. “The waterfront affords us a great opportunity to do that.”

“The challenge is if the student body was to grow in the future, we have very little space left to build new buildings.”

Steve Swan

Brian Gouran, director of environmental programs at the Port of Bellingham, said the Waterfront project has been in the works for some time.

“In 2005, when we started this process…we had a really ambitious timeline,” Gouran said. “We thought within 10 years the site would be halfway built.”

In 2008 the recession hit and everything slowed down, Gouran said.

“That was actually a good opportunity for everybody to re-calibrate,” Gouran said.

The project since has hit some major milestones. In 2013, the planning was completed and the city finalized the zoning change.

“Now that the economy has picked back up, and we have started to see development, we can kick around the idea that this could be a lifetime type of project,” Gouran said. “It’s a long-term, slow-legacy project.”

Western does not have much remaining preparatory work to begin expansion and is instead working on planning and programming, Gouran said.

The Port of Bellingham completed a $32 million environmental cleanup in September, removing over 100,000 yards of contaminated sediment.

“For perspective, that’s about 10,000 dump trucks worth of contaminated sediment that was removed from Bellingham Bay,” Gouran said.

The city is ready to issue the bid for the construction of the first street to provide access to the waterfront, which is expected to be completed in June 2017, Gouran said. 

Senior Tiffany McNeary is excited for the coming changes.

“Even if I can’t be here to see the final project, I’m glad to come back, visit and see where it does end up and how the students have so many more new resources,” McNeary said.

The city, port and the university have been working with Harcourt Developments, a company based in Ireland. The goal of the redevelopment project is to provide public access and jobs to a historical and industrial area.

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