Evan Thompson / The Record — James Tennison is the newest tenant at the South Whidbey Community Center on the campus of Langley Middle School. The Langley resident and artist occupies a room in the Spencer Building behind Island Dance.

Space at campus-turned community center is filling up fast

The South Whidbey Community Center is beginning to take shape.

Six tenants currently occupy rentable space on the campus of Langley Middle School, while several others are in the process of moving in. It will eventually be home to an indoor playground, attorney, non-profit organizations, after-school programs, project based learning, culinary arts and more.

Gail LaVassar, South Whidbey School District’s community liaison for the center, anticipates 75 percent of the campus will be occupied in the coming weeks, as soon as leases are finalized and signed.

Rooms at the closed school are being utilized for both month-to-month and hourly rentals. The revenue will cover maintenance and operation of the building, while keeping the possibility of reopening the school later down the road. Prices for rooms range in size (between 150 to 1,880 square feet) and price ($65 to $1,222) at a rate of 65 cents per square foot. Tenants also pay utilities.

Leanne Finlay, a managing broker at Windermere Real Estate, said the rental rates are below average compared to other commercial space available to rent in Langley — about $1 per square foot — but that it’s hard to compare apples to oranges when it comes to a school campus. According to LaVassar, the rates are lower because tenants agree to work in a collaborative manner that fits with the overall context of the community center.

“Any individual, business or organization located at the community center must be able to meet a community need or interest identified on our survey and be willing to participate in coordinated community activities,” LaVassar said.

Fitness, play under one roof

Rain in the Pacific Northwest has a way of sabotaging plans to play outside. Clinton residents Sarah and Zach Ruggenberg would like to change that.

The couple plans to create the first indoor playground on South Whidbey inside the Cooler gymnasium. Their intent for the playground, called The Backyard, is to provide indoor play and quality fitness for all, including local residents on low or fixed incomes who can’t afford gym memberships.

“Our ultimate goal is to not turn anyone away for the reason of cost,” Sarah Ruggenberg said.

Inspired by the television show “American Ninja Warrior,” the indoor playground will feature a warped wall, rock climbing, free climbing, monkey bars and other obstacles that cater to all ages, including adults. The objective is to provide fitness without it seeming like a workout, Sarah Ruggenberg said.

“We really like the idea of exercise being disguised as play,” Sarah Ruggenberg said. “It’s not a gym. You’re not being forced to move. But, you’re compelled to move.”

The Backyard will operate with “pay what you can structure.” The suggested donation for a play session or fitness class is $8. Those who can pay closer to the suggested donation will help offset less revenue from those who cannot. Revenue from the payments will go toward keeping the doors open and funding memberships for low income, fixed income and foster families.

They have not moved in yet, but once they do, they will share the space with South Island CrossFit. A wall will separate the two entities and allow them to operate independently, though there is potential for collaboration.

“We’re excited about this friendship and having everything fitness oriented under one roof,” Sarah Ruggenberg said.

Lara Ortiz, who co-owns the fitness center with Andres Ortiz, said being in the Cooler since September has been “great” because of its location and high ceilings. She also echoed Sarah Ruggenberg’s sentiments about sharing the space.

“I think it would be a positive thing for the community to have more interaction with kids and adults working out together,” Ortiz said.

Non-profit groups set up shop

The Whidbey Homeless Coalition hopes to make the community center its new long-term home. It is going to be among several nonprofits setting up shop on the campus.

Faith Wilder, president of the coalition’s board of directors, said the organization has outgrown its current office space in a trailer next to the House of Hope just down the street on Camano Avenue. House of Hope is one of two temporary housing centers the coalition operates, the other being The Haven in Oak Harbor.

The new space will make it easier for the coalition to receive guests, set up collaborative meetings with other service agencies — some of which will be under the same roof — and provide a more centrally located home base, Wilder said. She added the room will operate as an office with cubicles and provide a safe space for families to receive counseling and help.

“I think it will be a rich place for our employees and for all of the many volunteers we’ll be training out of that space,” Wilder said. “…We’re expecting to be in the community center as long as it is a viable option for us.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County, a peer mentorship program, are in the process of moving in. Julie Langrock, executive director, said the location will provide a better ability to recruit and coordinate interviews with “Bigs” and “Littles.”

“We’re excited about the opportunity to be back in South Whidbey and to collaborate with the other agencies that are going to be housed in there,” Langrock said.

Langrock added that the organization has added a new recruiting and marketing specialist to help boost the number of volunteers in South Whidbey and that they plan to stay at the community center at least through the summer.

A new home for creative thinkers

The community center appears to be a hub for creative thinkers, as three of the six current tenants are artists.

James Tennison is the newest person to rent space. The painter is recently arrived from Fort Worth, Texas and has lived in Langley for only a few weeks. He’s making himself at home in the Spencer Building behind Island Dance though.

“It’s a very large space,” Tennison said. “I’ve got lots of room to work and spread out and put my paintings on the wall. It’s a comfortable environment.”

Kim Tinuviel of Tinuviel Creative arrived in September. The artist, designer and musician keeps her doors open for students, clients and art buyers while splitting her time as an artist and an instructor. She teachers art, photography and music in one-on-one and group sessions.

Tinuviel, who designed logos for the community center, is also mentoring a high school student in a web design project for the center’s office website. The website’s purpose will be to keep tenants and the public informed of events, activities, vacancies and online bookings for hourly classroom rentals, Tinuviel said.

“The intern and I are already working together to address the technical, logistical and artistic aspects of this project, and I expect once it is finished, we’ll continue to work together to keep the site up-to-date as well as discovering new learning opportunities,” Tinuviel said.

Evan Thompson / The Record — Clinton resident Zach (back left) and Sarah Ruggenberg (back right) plan to open South Whidbey’s first indoor playground at the South Whidbey Community Center. Their children Carter (front left, 6) and Orson (front right, 4).

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