The Community Boating Center is in the process of constructing classrooms, showers/changing rooms and toilets as well as a small boat launch to better serve its growing number of users.

The non-profit organization, founded in 2006, promotes safe recreation on small boats on Bellingham Bay from the center of Fairhaven.

“We’ve grown about 300% in the last two years,” Community Boating Center executive director Bryan Rust said in a phone interview. “So we have tripled the scale of almost all of our programs.”

Overall attendance, including rentals, has grown from 2,431 people in 2020 to 4,218 people in 2021. To accommodate the growing number of participants, the Community Watersports Center has emptied its workshop to make a community room for this season.

“I started in May 2020 and at that time we were hosting one class at a time in an outdoor tent class space,” Rust said. “We have since converted another (outdoor) space so we have gone to two. This season alone we’ve gutted our workshop building, which is this beautiful historic boat shop on our campus, but it’s our only fully indoor classroom space.

“The construction project would include six locker rooms with a toilet and shower in a single stall, three of which would be ADA compliant,” Rust said. “There is a second floor for the building which would be a kind of community/multipurpose space where we could hold programs or events, and then there would be a large terrace overlooking the water. On the ground floor, under the bridge, at the rear of the building on the water side, there will be an outdoor classroom space.

Fairhaven Community Boating Center paddlers in 2021. The center is set to build classrooms, showers/changing rooms and toilets as well as a small boat launch to serve its growing number of users. Community nautical center Courtesy of the Bellingham Herald

For 15 years, the Community Boating Center operated with no sewer hookups and just portable potties outside their old workshop building.

“We need these resources ASAP,” Rust said. “We serve over 4,000 people here in our programs and we have two potties and a changing shed.”

Community partners, including the Lummi Boys and Girls Club, Shifting Gears, and Vamos Outdoors, helped kickstart fundraising for this project.

“The fundraiser was started with the Rotary Club of Bellingham,” Rust said. “They gave us their Major Project grant, which is about $7,500. We have secured another private donation and secure grant funds and hope to go public with the capital gain campaign this summer and go out into our community asking to help us with this project.

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Children learn to sail on Bellingham Bay on the first day of the Community Boating Center’s Adventure Sailing Camp in 2014. Philip A. Dwyer The Bellingham Herald

Rust said the goal to start construction is late fall after their season is over and have everything finished by next season.

“The builder expects about six months at most,” Rust said. “I think if we can’t start it next fall, we could wait for a full year cycle so that construction doesn’t interfere with our programming.”

The Community Boating Center worked with local architect David Christensen to design this new building and Mike Hammes, CEO of RAM Construction, to work on construction logistics.

The Port of Bellingham recently signed a lease with the Nautical Center to increase the leased area by nearly 2,000 square feet.

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Children sail on the first day of the 2014 Community Watersports Center Adventure Sailing Camp on Bellingham Bay. Philip A. Dwyer The Bellingham Herald

As well as a new building to meet their needs, Rust said the Port of Bellingham has approved the installation of another small boat launch near the centre, which would reduce competition to get on the water.

“This is kind of the most critical next step in our evolution,” Rust said. “When this dock is in place, the entire non-motorized watercraft community will have their own space to access the waters of Fairhaven and that’s pretty critical. I believe the new project will support existing growth and will certainly help catalyze future growth.

These projects will also benefit the Community Boating Center during the off season.

“We are working with the Bellingham School District to organize field trips for the entire sixth-grade class at Shuksan Middle School,” Rust said. “This is the first time we’ve partnered with them and if it goes well I think they would like to extend this to all Bellingham Year Six students.”

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The Community Watersports Center on Friday May 6 is on the Fairhaven waterfront near Padden Lagoon. The center is in the process of constructing classrooms, showers/changing rooms and toilets as well as a small boat launch to serve its growing number of users. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

Rust added that having a warm space to work with the kids on chalk talks before and after they get in the water or to hold marine science activities in hopes of making them more comfortable with launching is a big step.

“We had to be very creative to sustain the growth,” Rust said.

Information about the Community Watersports Center can be found on its website, including classes, rentals, and hours of operation.

This story was originally published May 9, 2022 9:47 a.m.

Kiaya Wilson is an intern at the Bellingham Herald. She has a journalism degree from Western Washington University.