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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The President’s Residence

By Joely Johnson


Up on a corner lot on Wildwood Drive sits a cream-colored home with a large, stone archway leading to the front door. The 6,000 square foot house has five bedrooms and a large back porch that overlooks Bellingham Bay. This house is the home of Western Washington University’s President Sabah Randhawa and his wife, Uzma Ahmad.

The Western Foundation leases a president’s official residence for the president and their family to live in during their time in that position.

Paul Cocke, director of University Communications and Marketing, said the president’s residence is leased rather than purchased by the university to decrease the amount of money they have to pay.

“When the foundation acquired the house, the lease payment to the university was decreased by $2,000 a month,” Cocke said in an email.

The foundation acquired the current residence for $561,000. The university leases the home from the Western Foundation for $4,100 per month, which includes the cost of maintenance, property insurance and taxes, Cocke said.

According to the Whatcom County Assessor, the Wildwood Drive home has an estimated current value of $889,129.

The home is not only for President Randhawa and his wife to live in, but is also used as a place for campus and community outreach, Cocke said. It is used as a venue for fundraising functions and events for the university and Western Foundation, and many student and employee award winners receive recognition at the residence for their accomplishments.

Recent Western graduate Patrick Eckroth was the 2014-15 director of Western’s Representation and Engagement programs, and the 2015-16 Associated Students vice president of governmental affairs. In his positions, he was given the opportunity to visit the official residence.

Eckroth said he visited the residence once for a welcoming ceremony into his position on student government.

“Essentially, every year when the new board is elected, the new board of directors with the old board would go for a dinner at the president’s house with all the vice presidents of the university,” Eckroth said.

Eckroth said this dinner was used as a way to meet all of the people that they were going to be working closely with in the upcoming year, as well as the president himself.

“I was definitely happy to go, especially to meet the people,” Eckroth said. “It’s important to form a relationship with them if you want to get things done.”

Eckroth was surprised when he saw the president’s home in person for the first time.

“I think most people would be. It’s normal for a university president to have a house that is paid for by the institution, but it’s weird seeing it so far away and up on a hill,” Eckroth said.

However, the current official residence on Wildwood Drive has not always been a part of the University.

“Outside, it’s just a house and anyone could live there, but once you get inside, you really get to sort of feel that it’s personal. It’s not just a space to use, it’s their home.”

Jessica Lucas, Western Foundation student ambassador

Previous Western presidents have lived in a number of different homes as their official residences. President Haggard lived in a home owned by the university on the corners of Oak and High Streets.  Following  President Haggard, Presidents Jarrett, Bunke, and Flora took residence in what is now Canada House. After that, Presidents Olscamp, Ross, and Mortimer lived in a house owned by the university on Toledo Street, Cocke said.

When the Toledo Street property was sold, the official residence was a rental on Fifteenth Street. From there, it moved to Brighton Crest Drive. After the Brighton Crest residence, the Western Foundation purchased a home to be the official residence, but never used it because it was deemed unsuitable.  After this home, Western began to lease the current residence on Wildwood Drive, Cocke said.

“The house purchased by the Foundation in 2005 was determined not to be suitable as a president’s residence for a variety of reasons, including prohibitively expensive remodels that would have been required to fully convert the house to a president’s residence,” Cocke said.

Senior Jessica Lucas was a student ambassador for the Western Foundation and worked at the president’s residence to provide guest support during many big events.

When Lucas began as a student ambassador, she did not know that the president’s house existed. And when she first visited the house, she did not know what to expect.

“Outside, it’s just a house and anyone could live there,” Lucas said. “But once you get inside, you really get to sort of feel that it’s personal. It’s not just a space to use, it’s their home.”

Lucas expressed her appreciation of the fact that President Randhawa and his wife are so welcoming when they invite people into their home.


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