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UWT adds ‘Y’ to its campus

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University of Washington Tacoma has added a key facility to its effort to boost campus life activities with the grand opening of the University Y Student Center on Jan. 6. The project has been in the works for years and became possible through a partnership between the university and the YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap County.

The partnership basically has UWT owning the new facility with the YMCA operating fitness and recreational activities within the center. It is a one-of-a-kind facility since the college facility couldn’t likely have been funded through the traditional construction process for educational buildings that involves uncertain legislative options.

The partnership provides student services as well as adds options and amenities for the greater community. The seed of the partnership was planted years ago, when UW Tacoma’s late chancellor Debra Friedman arrived after serving as chief administrator of Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus at a time the school was planning a student union attached to an existing Y facility. UWT students wanted gym and gathering places. So she began talks to see if a similar idea could work in Tacoma.

“When Chancellor Friedman joined UW Tacoma, she brought with her a vision for what we could do together. With the University Y complete, her vision will impact the community for years to come,” said Ronn McMahon, the Y’s senior vice president for strategic advancement and collaborations.

Student fees cover the cost of YMCA membership for UWT students for as long as they are enrolled in courses. The facility is also open to non-students who are already YMCA members at other locations. Students who are already YMCA members aren’t double billed.

“UW Tacoma is a natural partner, and we are thrilled not only to serve the students, faculty and staff of the university, but to create a community asset that serves to strengthen Tacoma,” said Bob Ecklund, president and chief executive officer of YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties.

The center, located on the corner of Market Street and 17th Avenue, sits on the site of the former Longshoremen’s Hall, a 60-year-old building that is being remembered through a two-story mural by Chelsea O’Sullivan on the fitness center’s wall. The University Y offers meeting and social spaces as well as a health and fitness center that comes complete with basketball courts and a climbing wall that has five climbing options.

The $22 million center is the first new construction at UW Tacoma. All of the other construct projects included renovations of existing buildings. The former Local #23 of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Hall was too small and in need of costly repairs, so it was decided to raze it and start fresh from the ground up. The union had left the facility in 2002 for a new facility in Fife. UWT had been using the site as a learning center before the new construction started for the Y facility.

The project was designed by McGranahan Architects and constructed by Mortenson Construction.

UWT has 4,500 students, with about 75 percent of them either juniors, seniors or graduate students. The school also has 302 faculty members. The campus itself consists of 20 buildings on 46 acres in downtown Tacoma, with a total of 557,664 square feet of active campus space as well as on-campus housing at the Court 17 Apartments and 26 stores and restaurants located on campus.


  • 70,000 square feet on three floors
  • $22 million total project budget; design-build contract awarded to Mortenson Construction-McGranahan Architects
  • Center for Student Involvement, with space for student government and student organizations
  • Gymnasium that can be configured for two half-court basketball games or one NCAA regulation sized game; gymnasium is encircled with an upper level 1/12-mile running track
  • Extensive state of the art cardio, fitness and weight training spaces and equipment
  • Men’s and women’s locker rooms and two group-exercise multipurpose studios
  • Child watch facility; reflection room for quiet contemplation
  • Climbing wall with five routes, from beginner to advanced
  • The Game Room, the central student social space of the University Y
  • Student Assembly – multi-function space seating up to 370 banquet-style
  • Videoconferencing center available by rental
  • Community room with kitchenette available by reservation to all users