Central Washington University has requested $66.4 million from the state Legislature to complete a science building it conceived more than 15 years ago.

“It’s all kind of hopefully coming together. All the planets are coming into alignment,” CWU Facilities Director Bill Yarwood said of the project. 

Former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget proposed fully funding the facility, but the Legislature still needs to approve funding for construction. CWU has sent staff and students to Olympia to lobby for the project, and brought legislators to Ellensburg to garner support.

The new building will house high-demand programs in physics, geological science and science and math education. It is expected to provide modern classroom and laboratory space in the same building and improve energy efficiency, according to university officials.

The university hopes the new building will allow it to add more students to popular science programs. Right now, CWU has capped enrollment in its physics program due to insufficient capacity to accommodate new students. 

Meanwhile, physics enrollment has increased 400 percent since 2007, according to university figures. The new science building fits in with proposals in CWU’s new draft master facilities plan to create a consolidated science neighborhood near the center of campus.

CWU has identified the science building as a top priority for funding. The project received pre-design funding from the Legislature in its 2009-11 budget and funding for designs in the 2011-13 budget. 

The university’s science, technology, engineering and math programs are housed in some of CWU’s oldest and most technologically out-of-date buildings, according to university literature. Those buildings include Lind Hall, which was constructed during the 1940s, and Hebeler Hall, which dates to the 1940s. 

Lind and Hebeler lack de-ionized water, high-pressure air, modern climate control and stable, low-vibration foundations which are required for science laboratories, according to CWU.

The university plans to build the new three-story, more than 118,082 gross square-foot science building in a space south of the Japanese Garden where a parking lot is now.

Moving science classes out of Lind Hall could free space for the creation of a “one-stop shop” for general student services, Yarwood said. The plan would consolidate student business services such as enrollment management, registration, counseling and admissions, and math and writing services in Lind Hall and Bouillon Hall.

CWU split the science building project into two phases in 1992, and completed the project’s first phase, which accounts for 2/3 of the endeavor, in 1999.

Economic ripple effect

In February, the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce urged support for the science building project. 

Yarwood says a project like construction of the proposed science facility impacts not only CWU, but the entire Ellensburg community.

“If we have 20-25 engineers, architects here on campus for a meeting, those guys are eating lunches downtown,” Yarwood said. He said people who come to town for business meetings often come back for other events like rodeo and the WinterHop BrewFest.

“A lot of them say it all goes back to that trip to Ellensburg,” Yarwood said.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Armstrong estimated the project could generate $1 million in local sales and tax revenue.

“The chamber recognizes that this construction project will have a tremendous economic impact on Kittitas County,” he wrote. “We also recognize that (the project) promotes (science, technology, engineering and math) education in local K-12 schools and draws visitors to our community by providing modern science facilities in which to host special math-science events and seminars.”

 

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