Western Washington University hopes to open a community learning center on the Bellingham, Wash., waterfront within the next five years as the Waterfront Master Plan gains traction after a decade of discussion and controversy.
The Port and City of Bellingham recently agreed to develop about 11 acres of the waterfront, said Steve Swan, vice president of university relations and community development at Western.
Swan is also a member of the Waterfront Development Group, which is brainstorming the possibility of extending the university’s reach to a waterfront location, Swan said.
“Everything we do, we talk about creating a destination point,” Swan said. “When we talk about a destination point, we’re talking about programming and a facility that represents the values of Western.”
The building will be environmentally friendly to promote one of Western’s core values of sustainability, Swan said.
Students in Western professor Nick Zaferatos’ 2009 urban planning class created conceptual designs used by the Western waterfront committee as a launching point toward final plans, Swan said.
Students could have the chance to receive an education in the heart of downtown Bellingham with a building on the waterfront, which would bring them down from Western’s landlocked campus on Sehome Hill, Swan said.
Sustainability is extremely important, said Western senior, Ryan Crotty studying urban planning and sustainable development.
“I think it would be great to work far out in the community,” Crotty said. “That’s important to the people, not just what’s important to the students.”
Zaferatos has worked with Bellingham waterfront planners since Georgia Pacific sold the land to the Port of Bellingham in 2005.
“Universities are often seen as the ivory tower up on the hill, and this is a very visible move toward furthering university engagement in issues in the local community space,” Zaferatos said.
Exactly which programs and departments would get space in a waterfront building has not been determined, Zaferatos said.
Huxley College of the Environment is a candidate for the new location, but it could be a mixture of other Western colleges — including the art department — who will focus on collaborating with the Bellingham community, he said.
It has taken almost a decade to get to this point because of disagreements in the Bellingham community on what the waterfront should be, Zaferatos said.
“The possibilities for collaborations with sustainable solutions for community development, I think, is the future for Western,” Zaferatos said.
When the opportunity for expansion first arose in 2006, there was a lot of excitement on campus, Swan said. Then during the recession in 2008, enthusiasm waned, he said.
The Waterfront Committee is now coming up with strategies to engage the Western community, Swan said