The Skokomish Tribe’s long-awaited community center features more than 400 solar panels on the roof — enough that it is expected to produce more energy than it uses.
“It’s slated to potentially be the first net-zero building on tribal land in the United States,” said Daniel Glenn, principal with 7 Directions, the Seattle-based architectural firm that designed the building.
The tribe, which is headquartered north of Shelton, plans to sell any excess solar energy that’s generated to Mason County Public Utility District No. 1, which serves approximately more than 5,200 electric customers.
“We are probably one of the largest solar projects in the state, if not the West Coast,” said Yvonne Oberly, the tribe’s chief executive officer. “The technology was available and ... we believe in being as energy efficient as possible as well as being environmentalists.”
About 200 people gathered on Friday morning for a grand opening celebration of the 22,000-square-foot building, which was built by Pease Construction of Lakewood and Rognlins Inc. of Aberdeen. It took about three years to design and build and cost about $12 million, Oberly said.
The center has a gymnasium, a meeting hall, a commercial kitchen, a dining room, a fitness room, a computer lab, and space for culture and art classes.
The building is designed to promote community wellness, and it will bring together the tribe’s youth and elder programs, according to tribal chairman Guy Miller.
“We’re blessed to have a place for our youth,” said Skokomish elder Carol Cordova, 69. “We didn’t have that before. We had to use the gym at Hood Canal School.”
Miller described the new center as a sign of progress for the tribe, and said it’s the first of several capital projects that are planned.
The tribe’s last major project was an expansion of the Lucky Dog Casino about eight years ago, and the addition of an event center about a year later, Oberly said.
Beyond the solar power, the community center was built with energy efficiency in mind and includes LED lighting, a structural insulated panel system and air and heat exchangers, Glenn said. Greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be reduced by 2,079 tons of carbon dioxide during a 25-year period, officials say.
The tribal community had a lot of input on the building’s design, he said.
Traditional Coast Salish artwork was incorporated into the building’s structure. Its barn-style doors are carved like masks, the acoustic panels have overlays with traditional basket designs, and the main entries feature carved poles.
Even a series of geometric points designed in the floor of the longhouse-style meeting hall have a special meaning. It’s known as a “seal roost” design,” explained tribal historical preservation officer Kris Miller.
“It signifies when the seals would come up on the island to get away from the killer whale,” she said.
The space will be used for holiday parties, general council meetings, funerals, basketball tournaments, cultural classes and big events. During a major disaster, it can serve as an emergency shelter, officials say.
Several tribal members said they’ve been dreaming of a community center their entire life.
“We’ve been waiting on this forever,” said Skokomish elder Marie Gouley, 71, as she waited for the grand opening ceremony and a tour. “I just can’t quit smiling.”