12th Man

February 12, 2014

So, the man looked at me and said, "That's a great story. More people ought to know that."

He was a little drunk, we were packed together on a very crowded train and the fans that volleyed "Sea" and "Hawks" back and forth were sounding a lot like geese heading south. Heading south we were, he to a hotel room by the airport after the Super Bowl victory parade, and me to my home after a long work day.

We had started to chat a mile or two earlier, talking about the crowd, the game, and other light-rail fare. When I revealed that I was no football fan, he apologized for the hassle the event had caused for us working folks - a pretty generous sentiment from a die-hard fan. He asked me what I did for a living and when I replied that I was an architect, he wanted to know what I was working on.

So I told him about the Student Recreation Center at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham. He was genuinely interested, so I went on a bit. I wanted him to know that there was very little state money for projects like this one these days, and how the students had, with our help, championed the cause.

I explained our role in creating a feasibility study, developing a program and a design concept that originated in a charrette with students, staff, and administration. I told him how the college and student leadership took that study and used it to market the project back to the larger student community, how they had voted to fund the project with a per-credit tuition fee increase they imposed on themselves, and how they began contributing to the project's funding with the next quarter's fees. They would never get to use the building, not as students anyway, but they chose to bear some of the pain to reduce the project's debt load and make it easier on the future Whatcom classes that would reap the benefit.

I can go on about the elegance of the design, its sustainable features, the transformational effect it will have on that campus, but really, the most remarkable thing about it to me is the students' generosity and vision. And to the College administration's credit, students have been rewarded by being empowered to participate in virtually all the decisions that have shaped the project to date.

We should all be a little more like the community at Whatcom Community College. I am filled with admiration for their commitment, borne of selflessness and generosity. It's a great story indeed.