Stilly tribe proud of new science showplace

ARLINGTON — The Stillaguamish Tribe’s new Natural Resources Department Building is designed to honor the tribe’s history and culture while making it easier to research and protect resources for the future.

The facility houses the tribe’s environmental and cultural preservation efforts, including ongoing fish and water quality studies. A new custom-built laboratory allows researchers to keep track of fish populations and the condition of the river and streams in the Stillaguamish watershed.

The tribe also works to protect wildlife, sacred sites, artifacts and fishing rights. More than 200,000 Chinook salmon are released into the river by the tribe each year, the Natural Resources Department reports.

“We’re all an important role in what we do,” Tribal Chairman Shawn Yanity said. “We have the duty that was put by our creator on our ancestors. We can’t protect our natural resources without our culture. This building represents the tribe as a whole and everything we do in our ever shifting and changing culture.”

Staff settled into the center in May. Planning for the building started in 2010, and construction took about 18 months.

The tribe celebrated the Natural Resources Department Building with an open house in late September. Speakers shared memories and hopes for the future. Songs set to a deep, steady drumbeat honored the tribe’s history.

The previous natural resources facility was located in a farmhouse low in the valley, where it was plagued by pests and flooding. The new center is perched uphill, surrounded by trees with a view of the valley visible between the branches. It’s off I-5 at Exit 210, down 6th Avenue near the tribe’s police station.

“When I showed up this was a pile of logs, steel and rocks taller than my head,” Architect Brooks Middleton said. The open lot near the police station had been used to store supplies like lumber and metal, but nothing was built on it. He followed deer trails through the area and realized it would be an ideal location, outside of the floodplain and away from the mice. The tribe’s Natural Resources Department Building Committee sealed the deal over a campfire at the site.

Features of the new building echo traditional structures, Middleton said. Designers looked at reconstructions of Native American housing to inspire their modern take on tribal architecture.

Detailing on exterior walls is made to look like cedar plank siding, and most of the interior lighting is natural, with expansive windows and skylights that pull illumination from outside. Load-bearing beams are outside of the building rather than in the walls. The steel used to make the columns is the same material used for train boxcars, which means they should gain a natural rust coat and can survive the cold, wet weather, said Josh Baldwin with Quantum Construction, Inc.

The building also is meant to be energy-efficient and low-maintenance. It should last about a century without any major projects, said Walt Bendt, superintendent of Quantum Construction.

Natural lighting cuts down on the tribe’s energy bill, as does geothermal heat. The building has its own well and septic system. Native flora is planted in rain gardens outside to help with drainage.

“It’s kind of neat because the whole thing is self-contained,” Middleton said. “It doesn’t need to be connected to anything outside.”

A drive-through garage and mudroom allow employees to shed wet, muddy gear after studying the river. There’s a conference room, a reception area and a number of bright, open offices. The water quality lab, which used to be in a repurposed garage, is a large blue, gray and white space with custom equipment to test water samples and examine fish.

Guests were impressed by the new building.

“Being in government in the most beautiful part of the world, one of our biggest challenges is to balance our built environment with our natural environment,” Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert said. “This building does that.”

Stanley Speaks, regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, remembered visiting a Stillaguamish Tribe fish hatchery three decades ago. It was essentially a shack, with bathtubs full of fish and water.

“If you went back a few years, you never would have known this would be here,” he said. “What a beautiful way to go.”

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

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