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City-school Civic Complex trade could enhance indoor recreation in Bellingham

School district would get new site for Carl Cozier Elementary

The City of Bellingham and Bellingham Public Schools are exploring plans to convert the Carl Cozier Elementary School site to an indoor recreation facility and build a new school on the next-door Civic Athletic Complex property. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

Bellingham school and city officials are exploring plans to build a new elementary school on city property at the Civic Athletic Complex in the Puget Neighborhood, while converting the old Carl Cozier Elementary School site into an indoor recreation facility.

As part of the plan, announced Thursday, Feb. 22, Bellingham Public Schools would delay construction of a 15th city elementary school in the King Mountain neighborhood.

“We believe a new school in the King Mountain neighborhood will eventually be needed, but we believe it makes sense to focus on replacing our most aged schools now,” Superintendent Greg Baker said in a message on the school district website.

Carl Cozier, on Lakeway Drive and Lincoln Street just southwest of the civic complex, was built in 1951 and last remodeled in 1997. A $122 million bond measure approved by voters in February 2022 made funding available to build the new King Mountain school and begin design of new schools at Carl Cozier, Columbia and Roosevelt elementary schools.

School officials say the financial impacts of the new proposal are still unknown.

“As we shift gears to design the new Carl Cozier Elementary School, we will be working to determine what it will cost to buy the city’s land and design and build a new Carl Cozier,” Bellingham schools Assistant Communications Director Dana Smith said.

“A future bond may be needed to help complete this project, but we do not have a timeline yet for our next bond,” Smith added.

City officials see the deal as an opportunity to upgrade indoor recreational offerings. The announcement comes amid growing community pressure to supplement or divert some voter-approved property tax money long devoted to city Greenways projects to additional indoor recreation facilities.

Some city residents have complained about the lack of quality indoor recreation spaces in a town known for winter darkness and poor weather. Greenways Advisory Committee members indicated in a recent Cascadia Daily News guest commentary that “the city is well aware of these recreational needs, and work is underway to evaluate opportunities at the civic complex to expand facilities and meet the needs of the community now and into the future.”

The plan announced Thursday includes no specific information about funding for the recreation portion of the plan.

“This exploration is an exciting step in reimagining, modernizing and dreaming big about the civic complex,” Mayor Kim Lund said in a news release. “Over the long term, it could create opportunities for indoor recreation, expanded aquatics, community gathering spaces and other options that are needed and desired by our community and have been imagined in our recreation strategic plans.”

As a first step under the plan, the school district would purchase a property within the civic complex and build the new Carl Cozier Elementary there. The old school would house Columbia and Roosevelt students while their schools are being rebuilt. Then, the school district would demolish the old Carl Cozier and sell the property to the city for recreational use by 2029.

City and school officials will take public input before making a final decision on the deal. The city council must approve the sale of city property.

Ralph Schwartz is CDN’s local government reporter; reach him at; 360-922-3090 ext. 107.

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