Stillaguamish Tribe’s new community center connects youth and elders

ARLINGTON — The sprawling brown-and-red building off 55th Avenue NE is a nod to the Stillaguamish Tribe’s heritage and part of tribal leaders’ plans for the future.

It’s also the latest of four newly built or planned buildings for the 300-person tribe.

Leaders are working to update department work spaces. They also aim to set up administration and services closer to the 64-acre Stillaguamish Reservation, which was federally designated in 2014.

The new community center — a 26,000-square-foot, $5.5 million project — was completed and dedicated last month. Four departments are relocating there. They were previously crammed with the rest of the tribe’s administration in a smaller building in Smokey Point.

The center provides childcare, tutoring, meals and a space for gathering during classes, ceremonies or celebrations.

Design work started more than two years ago, and crews broke ground on the building last spring. It opened four months after the tribe celebrated the completion of a new Natural Resources Building on Sixth Avenue and two months after the grand opening of a five-story hotel attached to the Angel of the Winds Casino at 3438 Stoluckquamish Lane.

A new administration building, about twice the size of the community center, is under construction near the casino, at the corner of 236th NE Street and 35th Avenue NE. That project should be completed in early 2016, facilities director Jeremy Smith said.

Eventually, leaders plan to build tribal housing on acreage near the community center. The water tower and utilities that serve the center are designed to handle more development, although there’s no firm timeline for the housing, Smith said.

The community center was a priority because it creates a place for the tribe to congregate, cultural director Tara Boser said.

“During the summer, it will be used all the time, with summer camps and tribal functions,” she said. “Really, the hub of it all is gathering together.”

A replica of a traditional Stillaguamish canoe is perched on artificial rocks over a floor swirled with shades of blue to resemble a river. Past the canoe, a towering entryway, crafted to look like the aged boards of a longhouse, leads to a full-sized basketball court and stage for presentations and performances.

Offices for the tribe’s elders and the education and cultural departments are being furnished and supplied. A day care and play area already is busy with children.

“The day care was the biggest driver for the building,” Smith said. “We basically had a concrete playground at the administration building. We wanted the kids to get back out on the grass and in the woods.”

The day care is licensed for up to 12 kids at a time, ages one month to 12 years, director Stacy White said. Special programs like summer camps can have larger groups.

“All the kids in the tribe come to the day care,” she said. “They can come whenever, as long as we have room.”

The playground includes a mud pit, a slide built into a grassy hill, an outdoor music station, a paved track winding through the yard and a centerpiece with three fake evergreen trees, their concrete trunks carefully carved to look like bark. A garden also is being started in one corner of the fenced yard.

On a sunny Wednesday morning, a beaming girl slid down the slide and pranced across the grassy yard. She and two other children explored the new play area, climbing onto the slide and weaving between the fake trees.

It’s a huge step up from the previous day care’s playground, Smith said.

“Literally, it was a parking lot with rubber mats on it” topped by a swingset and jungle gym, he said. It didn’t let the children experience grass, dirt and nature, something the tribe wants for the next generation.

Another goal is to teach children about their heritage, Boser said. The tribe elders’ offices are just down the hall from the day care.

“The reason behind that was to tie the youth and the elders together,” she said.

A community center is something the tribe has needed for a long time, Boser said.

“We haven’t had a place where we can all gather,” she said “We’re happy to have someplace to call home again.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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