The power of a vote is currently on view at Walla Walla Community College.

Construction began earlier this month on a nearly 19,000-square-foot student recreation center on the east end of the school’s main parking lot. By this time next year, a facility housing a full basketball court, a fitness center and gathering spaces will be open for WWCC student use.

The entire project, including the future operating costs of the recreation center, was student approved and will be student funded, officials said.

In the early 2000s, WWCC student government voted to do a legacy project, which became the school’s Student Activities Center, known as SAC.

Situated on the floor above the campus cafe, the large and sunny room has pool, foosball and ping pong tables, arcade games, the “Pit Stop” concessions area and space for simply hanging out.

The work and equipment came at no cost to the school’s budget, thanks to a self-imposed fee of $4 per credit, up to 10 credits, said WWCC President, Derek Brandes.

“When that was completed in 2013, they began discussing the next legacy project. The idea was to continue that fee and have it go toward a recreation center.”

In 2016, 72% of WWCC students voted to move forward with that plan, this time charging themselves $5 per credit per quarter with a $50 maximum, Brandes said, adding that once again the college is not paying for any costs associated with the new building.

“When it is tight budget times, people are concerned that sparse college money is being spent on this. And this is totally student funded.”

Construction costs will run about $8.25 million, said Nadine Stecklein, director of student life at WWCC.

Stecklein will be overseeing the completed recreation center as part of her job duties and she was on the project’s steering committee.

Out of each $5-per-credit fee, $4 will go into building costs, while $1 will be banked for future operating and incidental costs, Stecklein said last week.

While students have been paying the fee for three years, the 20-year loan repayment begins in October, she added.

The leadership foresight shown by former WWCC students will pay untold dividends in the future, Brandes said.

“From a student engagement perspective, the longer students stay connected to campus, the more likely they are to stay in school. They are looking for social connections and activities outside of the classroom.”

Space for those things is especially important at a school that lacks residence halls and a student union building, he said.

“We’re in a competitive environment for students and students are wanting certain amenities. This is a valuable addition to our assets.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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