PT may finally be known as a 'college town'

Patrick J. Sullivan psullivan@ptleader.com
Posted 10/25/16

Port Townsend may finally become known as a "college town" now that Peninsula College has a modern facility at Fort Worden that offers higher education opportunities.

Students have been using the …

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PT may finally be known as a 'college town'

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Port Townsend may finally become known as a "college town" now that Peninsula College has a modern facility at Fort Worden that offers higher education opportunities.

Students have been using the renovated 14,000-square foot Building 202 since Sept. 28. The ceremonial ribbon was cut Oct. 24 for a $6 million project spawned about nine years ago by Jefferson County residents who wanted more from their community college system.

Ceremonial speakers on Monday described the Building 202 project as a "cornerstone" and a prime example of collaboration and partnerships in the face of many obstacles.

"The journey has been an arduous one," said Dr. Luke Robins, Peninsula College president.

Peninsula College first brought classroom instruction to Port Townsend in a variety of downtown locations. In 2004, the college moved to Building 298 at Fort Worden State Park, the former U.S. Army Coast Artillery post's hospital. The building was known as the "school house" since it was used by teenagers in the late 1950s and 1960s who were assigned to the state Department of Institution's Fort Worden Diagnostic and Treatment Center.

The two-story school house had no elevator, and little ability to accommodate modern classroom instructional technology.

The Jefferson County Higher Education Committee, led for years by the late Patience Rogge, was a primary booster of an actual college campus. The late Deb Johnson, the college's campus coordinator at the time, was also an ardent supporter. Attention eventually was focused on Fort Worden's Barracks Row, and specifically Building 202, built in 1904.

Robins talked about the many areas of cooperation and collaboration that eventually made the project possible. His theme was echoed by other guest speakers: Julie McCulloch of Port Townsend, chair of the Peninsula College Board of Trustees; David Timmons, City of Port Townsend manager; Michelle Sandoval, city councilor; Dave Robison, director of the Fort Worden Public Development Authority; and Joe Floyd, Peninsula College Foundation board chair.

"It's amazing what we can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit," McCulloch noted.

Credit was given to state legislators, past and present, including Steve Tharinger, Kevin Van De Wege, Lynn Kessler, Jim Hargrove and Derek Kilmer, who moved the project forward in Olympia, and as a congressman.

CITY LEADERSHIP

From the city's standpoint, Timmons recognized early that a stronger higher education presence was needed.

"Port Townsend reminds me of a college town but without the college," Timmons quipped.

Timmons talked of the city leadership's decisions when, in late 2007, the state announced the old Steel Electric ferries were being pulled from local service, along with the knowledge of the Hood Canal Bridge being closed for months in 2009. At the same time, the Great Recession arrived.

The city moved forward with plans to invest in the community, starting with helping the Northwest Maritime Center get completed, adding commercial infrastructure including the Upper Sims Way corridor, and support for the Lifelong Learning Center concept at Fort Worden. The city established a Public Development Authority in 2008, and its mission was later modified in 2011 to serve as a vehicle to specifically aid Fort Worden.

The Fort Worden Public Development Authority (PDA) now has a long-term lease with Washington State Parks to manager Worden's upper campus.

The city "put the money on the table," in the heart of the Great Recession, to prove to state and federal officials that it believed in the Fort Worden project, Timmons noted. Legislative funding arrived in 2011.

"We built a partnership and that partnership has produced a result," Timmons said. "We have a college."

TAX CREDITS

The key element to the project's financial stability proved to be historic tax credits, which financially made the project feasible. Robins noted that a nonprofit entity was needed for the tax credit plan, and the Peninsula College Foundation stepped up in 2013. First Federal provided the financing.

The project represents that "these buildings can be restored for new uses," Robison said, noting that 70 other buildings at Fort Worden need help. Now, the PDA is proceeding with historic tax credit applications for nine buildings known as "Makers Square,” a project it hopes to develop within five years.

The school house building's future is uncertain, Robison said. Centrum uses the building heavily in the summer months, so it's difficult to secure a long-term tenant who can relinquish the space for three months. It also may be the most expensive building to rehabilitate, Robison noted.

STUDENT USE

Anna Green of Port Townsend started as a student in 2004, and later became an employee. She has been the college's site coordinator here since 2008.

"I want to cry," Green said. "Having grown up in Port Townsend, and I had to go to Port Angeles for Running Start class. It's pretty amazing what students from East Jefferson County have here now."

The building opened for students Sept. 28, although the move-in is not yet complete. Green expects about 560 students (about 80 would be high schoolers in Running Start) to use the facility during the 2016-17 school year. There are now nine instructors each semester instead of eight, thanks to the expansion.

There are seven classrooms (two on the first floor, five on the second floor) plus a learning center. Each room has a "technology cart" with 24 PC laptop computers. In the old building, there were only two such carts. Plus, the computer lab has eight desk computers and 30 laptops.

Two classrooms are set up for "interactive TV," meaning an educator can live broadcast lessons from that classroom to another site, in Port Angeles or Forks, for example.

"It's not new technology for us, it's just a better set up," Green said.

Each classroom is ADA accessible; the building now has an elevator. Personal amenities include a student lounge with a small kitchen – the old facility simply had a microwave in the faculty office. There are small-group study rooms, a spacious lobby, and a room dedicated for instructors.

"The students are so happy," Green said. "They are having a great time."

Wes Cecil, a long-time instructor at the Fort Worden campus, said the facility translates directly to improved student learning. "The building says, 'we value you' and they respond."

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