College getting new student union building for $15 million


The Mirror

Highline Community College’s old student union building is still at the institution –– but you can’t see it.

The college, off Pacific Highway in Des Moines, is planning to open its new student union building in October. At 40,000 square feet, the new facility will replace a building that was designed and built in 1961. There were 1,000 students then. Now there are almost 11,000, and they need a place to meet, eat and study.

But the old building is still there –– in small pieces. Not wanting to waste an opportunity (and some money), the college tore the old place down and ground up the concrete from the 17,000 square-foot building and used it as fill beneath new sidewalks poured around its replacement. The new building is on the site of the old structure.

The new building, funded by dollars from student fees, will have three floors containing a dining/meeting area with a stage, a kitchen, grill, meeting rooms, study areas, wireless Internet access, bookstore, pizza oven, recreation areas and student government and club offices on top. The west side of the building has windows two stories high looking onto Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

The price tag is $15 million. Students have been paying a fee of $2.50 per credit (to a maximum of $25) since approving a levy in 1999 to fund the project. Lumpkin Inc. of Seattle is building the facility.

The student union was supposed to have been completed by the fall, but has been delayed by some materials not arriving on time to the jobsite.

Highline is experiencing a building boom of late. Three projects are going on at once. The Early Childhood Learning Center is nearly finished and will officially open in the fall, providing childcare and a study area for the education program.

Work is continuing on the Higher Education Center building, a collaboration between Highline and Central Washington University for a place where students can attend Highline and then get their bachelor or masters degree through CWU. The program has bounced around in five different spots on campus since its creation in 1977. When it opens in 2005, it will officially be known as CWU-Des Moines.

The last major construction at HCC was in 1990, when the technology building was erected. Prior to that, it was 1975 and the library going up, said Pete Babington, Highline’s director of facilities.

Times have changed.

There are more students and their needs and tastes are different than their predecessors from 40 years ago. Like many other higher-education institutions across the country, Highline is molding the new facility to students’ tastes, needs and expectations. Gone are the days of assembly-line cafeterias. Students want fresh foods like they find in restaurants. They want variety and like to see the food made in front of them. The pizza oven is a noticeable example of the school following culinary trends.

Handicapped accessibility is a must to comply with federal and state laws and a need. The new student union will allow those using wheelchairs or needing easy access to enter from the first and second floors without outside steps. Elevators inside can get them between floors.

Students weren’t the only people on campus consulted about the design. Maintenance employees were asked their opinions on materials proposed for use and how the building would be set up. If something was going to be difficult to clean or easy to break, the staff made it known, Babington said.

One item checked off the list is sound-proofing. Right in the flight path of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Babington said the old building did little to hide the sound of commercial jets coming and going. The new building has concrete in the roof as part of the sound-deadening effort.

While the interior will have a lot of open space, the plans for the exterior are to combine education and aesthetics between the library and new student union building and utilize some existing features.

Babington plans to convert part of a storm drainage pipe running downhill beside, and then in front of, the new building into a creek. He has asked the architect to include the idea in the plans, then plant trees along the creek as it meanders down the slope before going back into the pipe that takes the stormwater farther down the property.

A path will wind between the student center and library. A professor has asked Babington to work in a visual illustration of the planets and their relationship to the sun on the ground between the glass and steel student union building and the monolithic library. Outdoor art will also be incorporated into the landscaping.

Babington said the college’s long-term plans are to consolidate many of the small buildings on campus into new, larger structures that are more cost-effective and easier to operate.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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