Funds for the construction of a new student union building at Grays Harbor College did not make the cut in the 2019 state capital budget, but design work continues and the site of the three-story structure will be shovel ready when funds for the $41 million project become available, said Grays Harbor College President Dr. Jim Minkler.
The college’s request for funding to construct a replacement for the Hillier Union Building, constructed in 1957, was submitted to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, which prioritizes budget requests and submits them to the Legislature for consideration. This session there were 43 projects submitted statewide.
“We were number 27 on the list going into this biennium. We were hoping for them to get that far down the funding list, but they didn’t,” said Minkler. “The governor went down to number 14 on his funding request, the House was right there at 14, and the Senate went down to 17, and that’s where they ended up on the list.”
Shoreline College’s $36,642,000 request for funds to construct an allied health, science and manufacturing facility was at the 17th spot and the final one funded. A total of $327,812,000 was funded by the Legislature this past session.
The good news, said Minkler, is now the college’s union building construction project sits at number 10 on the list the next time the Legislature addresses the budget.
And there is still the possibility, slight as it might be, for funding to be approved in a supplemental budget in the next session.
“If I had to bet money it would go on not getting it in the supplemental budget,” said Minkler. “But I could guess that two years from now, if something drastic doesn’t happen, we would get funding in the next biennium budget for construction, and we’d be shovel ready at that point.” The design work was funded by $4.1 million from the state’s supplemental budget in 2018.
There is support from the region’s Coastal Caucus — the legislators who represent the districts covered by the college —for the new building, said Minkler.
“Our six legislators know of the importance of this building,” said Minkler.
Last summer, the 200 and 300 buildings on campus were demolished, and the plan is to build the new union building where those two buildings stood. The site sits above Lake Swano, so the second and third floors would have lake views.
The new building would be a one-stop shop for students.
“We will have all the student services in one spot,” said Minkler “It will be all right there, they won’t have to run around for services.” The building would house functions like class registration, advising and financial aid, currently spread out across campus.
Also in the works for the building is a full 2-year culinary arts program “with a focus on local seafood,” said Minkler, taking advantage of the campus’ proximity to Westport, currently the number 11 seafood port in the nation.
A community events center is planned for the third floor.
“If we get all the funding for it, the community events center will have a capacity of 500,” said Minkler. “But the longer you have a construction project on the list and it doesn’t get funded, those costs go up. By the time we get there we may have to scale down (in some areas) and one place would be in the capacity of the community events center.”