New University Y Student Center Opens

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Collaboration between UW Tacoma and YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties yields unique partnership in higher education, new student center – to open January 1.

The new University Y will feature a climbing wall with five different paths for varying skill levels. | Photos by Cody Char.Few schools in the country can say they have a campus center quite like UW Tacoma’s new University Y Student Center. And even fewer can say they finished theirs as quickly as this building was completed, going from concept to grand opening in just two years.

The new University Y houses both office, meeting and social spaces for UW Tacoma students and a large health and fitness center. With this mix of uses, the facility simultaneously reaches into the heart of campus life and bridges out to the community.

The facility will open to the public on January 1, 2015. UW Tacoma and YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties will host a community celebration and grand opening on Jan. 6.

The building came about thanks to a unique partnership UW Tacoma, which constructed and owns the building, and the YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties, which operates it. This innovative partnership brought to bear a unique solution to student needs on campus.

A Modern Student Center

The building, located on the corner of Market Street and 17th Ave, captures the industrial feel of the rest of UW Tacoma and combines it with a clean, modern aesthetic. The $22 million project is the first new construction at UW Tacoma.

It features meeting spaces for student organizations, a rock climbing wall with five routes from beginner to advanced skill level, two basketball courts (including one that meets NCAA regulations), among other features (see below for a full list).

The project, designed by McGranahan Architects and constructed by Mortenson Construction, moved quickly, going from concept to reality in less than two years, and with less than a year between the issuance of the building permit in Dec. 2013 and owner occupancy in Dec. 2014.

Opening Celebrations

University Y Grand Opening 

When: Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Where:University Y Student Center


  • Remarks by UW Tacoma leaders including Chancellor Kenyon Chan, Vice Chancellor Cedric Howard, ASUWT President Jocelyn Patterson, alumni representative Wil Johnson
  • Remarks by YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties leaders including Board Chair Deedra Walkey, President & CEO Bob Ecklund, Senior Vice President Ronn McMahon
  • Remarks by David Zeeck, publisher, Tacoma News Tribune

Facility tours: 6:30 – 8 p.m.

Longshoremen’s Mural dedication: 7:15 p.m.


The opening of the building will be commemorated with several events early in January for both campus and community.

On January 6 at 5:30 p.m., the Grand Opening will feature facility tours, an dedication of the Longshoremen’s Mural, and remarks by UW Tacoma, YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap County, and community leadership. (See pull-out box for more information.)

Earlier in the day on January 6, the University Y Student Center will offer a variety of activities to introduce the building to students. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., students are invited to drop in on fitness classes, explore the building and try out the climbing wall. At 4 p.m., UW Tacoma’s department of student engagement will host a giant dodgeball game on the new NCAA regulation basketball court, open to YMCA members and students, faculty and staff with their UW Tacoma IDs. Participants will receive a University Y Student Center sweatband.

On January 7, students are invited to the Winter Student Involvement Fair from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in University Y Rooms 303 and 304 to learn more about the varied Registered Student Organizations at UW Tacoma.

Boundless New Space

The student center will feature two basketball courts with six different hoops.

The University Y was built in large part to support student activities and organizations, giving students the space and resources to try the programs they think up. Dean of student engagement Ed Mirecki says that he often has had conversations with student leaders about ideas for programs, but couldn’t find a space to put them. In response, “We’ve really tried to make this (building) as limitless as possible,” he says.

The student center will feature a variety of athletic spaces for fitness activities.

  • Two basketball courts (one that meets NCAA regulations) with six hoops 
  • A climbing wall with five different routes, from beginner to advanced
  • 1/12-mile running track
  • 123 cardio, fitness and weight training stations: 70 cardio, 22 Precor, 31 Life Fitness
  • Men’s and women’s locker rooms and two group-exercise multipurpose studios

Additionally, the building will feature a variety of spaces for student activities and organizations.

  • Center for Student Involvement, with space for student government and student organizations
  • Game Room, a social space
  • Reflection Room for quiet contemplation
  • Student Assembly, a multi-function space seating up to 370 banquet-style
  • ideoconferencing center available by rental
  • Community room with kitchenette available by reservation to all users
  • Child watch service for parents using the facilities

A Swift Collaboration

The building, a collaboration between UW Tacoma and the YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties, will serve as a center of activity for students on campus.The impetus for the University Y collaboration emerged almost simultaneously within UW Tacoma and the YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties. In 2008, need for a student center like the University Y emerged at UW Tacoma. That same year, “community and business leaders challenged the Y to reach outside our walls and further into the community to deliver our healthy living and youth development programs,” says Bob Ecklund, president and chief executive officer of YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties.

“The momentum behind the project speaks volumes about the commitment of UW Tacoma and the YMCA,” said UW Tacoma Chancellor Kenyon Chan. “We knew from the beginning what our collaboration could bring to the community, and we were determined to do what we could to get there.” 

For more on the development of the partnership that led to the University Y, read It Takes a Partner.

Grown from Student Support

The University Y provides plenty of spaces for students to gather, formally and informally.The cost of using the University Y is included in UW Tacoma student fees, a process that was approved by UW Tacoma’s students in a campus- wide vote, creating a revenue stream that supports a substantial portion of the building cost. 

Read more about the student decision to fund the University Y in our story Putting Students First with the University Y.

Students now have full, free use not only of the University Y and its services, but also any YMCA facility in Pierce & Kitsap counties – nine locations in all, once the Gordon Family YMCA opens in 2015.

Conversely, the University Y is open to all local YMCA members, whether or not they are students. (Membership rates can be found on the YMCA website.) Students who are already Y members, including those with family memberships, will receive credit to their Y accounts based on their student fees (and will not end up paying twice for their membership).

Honoring Longshoremen’s Hall

The top half of the mural honoring Longshoremen's Hall is visible from the second floor.The University Y Student Center is built on the site of Longshoreman’s Hall, built in 1951 as the home of the International Longshoremen’s Association, which became Local #23 of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU). For more on the building’s history, read University Y Student Center to Memorialize Longshoremen’s Hall.

The role of waterfront workers, the ILWU and the legacy of Longshoremen’s Hall are honored in a two-story mural adorning the main entry area of the new building. The mural, by Tacoma artist Chelsea O’Sullivan, depicts a modern container ship alongside an older breakbulk carrier, showing at a glance how changes in technology have affected waterfront working conditions.

A First for UW Tacoma

The University Y Student Center is a unique partnership, “The first of its kind for our campus certainly, maybe even across higher education,” says Mirecki. It’s the type of innovative project that characterizes UW Tacoma – forward-thinking and resourceful, an inventive solution to meet student needs.

Written by: 
Abby Rhinehart / December 29, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Communications, 253-692-4536 or