They're getting what they pay for


The Mirror

The only thing missing Tuesday morning was the view from Highline Community College's new Student Union Building.

College officials, students and people responsible for the design and construction of the building spent the day celebrating its grand opening. Several commented the heavy fog didn't allow visitors to see the view of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The 47,000 square-foot, three-story facility was completed before Christmas, and students have been using it since the start of the new year. Sitting at a round table in the open-area ground floor, Dan Rupert gave the new building praise all around. The bookstore is large with a good selection, the food from the cafeteria is tasty –– but a bit expensive –– and the aesthetics of the $15 million building are excellent, he said.

Villi Knudsen, Rupert's friend, agreed, adding it was a "great social gathering place."

It's good they liked it. They and the other 11,000 Highline students are footing the bill.

The student body approved a $2.50 per credit levy in 1999 to pay for the building. Students are charged a maximum of $25 per quarter. State taxes did not pay for the project.

After more than 40 years of service, the old student union building, Tamolish, needed replacement. There were 1,000 students on the campus in 1961, and times were different when the 17,000 square-foot facility opened.

Alicia Akerman, Highline's current student body president, remembers the first day she came into the old student union building. It was dark and not very inviting, she said. Others commented about its hot and cold spots and noise from airplanes flying in and out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Instead of open spaces there were cubby hole-like areas that cut students off from each other.

By contrast, the new building has open areas where students and faculty can eat, study or socialize. The cafeteria is more of a dining experience, with fresh food being prepared and served while a nearby brick pizza oven rides a current culinary trend.

A quiet room on the third floor allows students to study undisturbed. It's adjacent to the student government offices. It is a change from the cramped quarters that Akerman, the other student officers and their advisors dealt with while the new building was under construction.

A piece of Tamolish is being preserved. The old building's plaque will cover a time capsule that will be opened in 2050. Inside the steel container are signatures and thumbprints from students, photos and a hammer and gold-painted crow bar that were used in a symbolic razing of the old building.

The new building sits on pretty much the same spot as its predecessor. In fact, cement from the original building was chunked into pieces and used as fill underneath the new building's sidewalks.

While the new building was under construction, the entire campus sacrificed some comfort. Students, faculty and staff endured meals and meeting at a large tent put up near the construction site. It was less than ideal.

Jessica McKell said the tent was noisy and crowded, making it hard to study and socialize.

Everyone from HCC president Priscilla Bell to Rupert agreed they had quite enough of the tent.

In front of the new building is artist Michihiro Kosuge's contribution: Five granite columns with different colored rings placed in a near half-circle. The colors of the granite rings represent the continents, much like the Olympic rings.

Kosuge, a retired Portland State University professor, calls the art "Linkage." He wanted to point out that students from several countries and ethnic backgrounds attend Highline and the Student Union Building connects the rest of the campus.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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