State construction budget shatters records for investments in education, housing and mental health

OLYMPIA—The new capital budget (House Bill 1102) passed by the state House and Senate invests a record-breaking amount to build public schools, colleges, affordable housing and mental health facilities. In the 42nd district alone, more than $51 million in projects are slated to begin or continue as a result of the budget’s passage, and this comes in addition to key victories in the operating and transportation budgets.

“The capital budget is what we call Washington’s construction spending plan,” said Whatcom state Rep. Sharon Shewmake. “We’ll see some great projects breaking ground throughout the district ranging ranging from building a new regional hub for affordable healthcare to reducing flood risk in our agricultural areas to repairs at our colleges to removals of fish barriers to enhancements at our children’s playgrounds.”

Shewmake (D-42nd, Bellingham) noted that the bipartisan capital budget passed the House on a 97-1 vote and passed the Senate 48-0. District highlights include:

  • UnityCare NW’s new Facility in Ferndale –$3 million for affordable healthcare by completing construction of the North Whatcom Health Center in Ferndale
  • Birch Bay Library – $2 million for a new library in Birch Bay. This great project is a direct result of the community, the county library system, and lawmakers working together to make good things happen.
  • Nooksack Dam Removal – $10.5 million to remove the Middle Fork Nooksack Diversion Dam, the single most important action we could take this year to immediately bolster salmon populations in our county. This, in turn, will better support our resident orcas and our crucial riparian ecosystems.
  • Stopping Erosion on Lynden’s Fishtrap Creek – $258,000 for a partnership with Whatcom Conservation District to stop erosion on Fishtrap Creek in Lynden.
  • Mount Baker Theater – $1 million to preserve and retrofit Bellingham’s historic Mount Baker Theater, the central facility for performing arts in Whatcom County.
  • Housing in Blaine – $500,000 for the East Blaine Infrastructure Project, which will install miles of utilities lines and pipes, setting the stage for a serious expansion of affordable workforce housing in Blaine.
  • Floodplains By Design – $6.2 million to provide long-term flood protection for farms and communities while restoring wild fish habitat. Like so many others, this investment is the direct result of citizen involvement, with Whatcom County farmers and anglers coming to the Legislature with good ideas.
  • Sumas Parks – $288,000 to build a new splash park for the children of Sumas and to revamp the Sumas Rodeo and Events Center, expanding its capacity to be an economic asset with regional draw.
  • Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center –  $118,000 to renovate a permanent home in central Bellingham to house A Place for Peace, a dispute resolution service for residents of Whatcom County.

The budget makes substantial investments in the campuses of the 42nd district’s three colleges, Whatcom Community College, the Northwest Indian College, and Bellingham Technical College. “As a college professor myself,” Shewmake said,  “I’m proud to represent a district that believes a strong education system means a strong economy. Investing in our colleges was a major priority of mine this year and these wins will have lasting, generational impacts on Whatcom County’s ability to drive innovation.”

And even though the campus of Western Washington University, where Shewmake teaches, is a few short blocks outside of the 42nd district, she said, “I think all of us here in the 42nd consider it ‘our’ university.  I was proud to work with the 40th-district legislative delegation – Reps. Jeff Morris and Debra Lekanoff, and Sen. Liz Lovelett – to ensure that the needs of WWU were addressed in the capital budget.  As a result, we’ll be investing more than $86 million for much-needed campus projects, ranging from classroom and lab upgrades and safety improvements to a major, $60 million renovation of and addition to the Sciences Building.”

With Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, the Legislature adjourned on-time in a budget year for the first time since 2009. In addition to eliminating the need for a special session, this means work on state-funded construction projects can begin right away, without idling workers during the prime construction season as in years past.

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