University Architect Rick Benner retiring in July

Colleagues are gathering to celebrate Benner June 20

After nearly 39 years at Western Washington University, Rick Benner, University Architect and Senior Director for Planning and Development, is retiring in early July. Rick’s colleagues will be gathering for a BBQ to honor his accomplishments on Thursday, June 20th at 11:30 am in the Marshalling Yard at the Physical Plant. We hope all the many people touched by Rick’s career can join us for the celebration.

Rick’s list of accomplishments is long and distinguished, having provided project management leadership on over 800 public works projects valued at over $1 billion. “It is easier to list what areas of campus Rick did not touch on than what he helped to develop,” said Associate Vice President for Facilities Development and Operations, Steve Hollenhorst. “Rick's impact on the WWU extends far beyond the tangible structures he helped create. He also made us a more transparent, equitable, and sustainable place.”

Rick Benner

“Rick's impact on the WWU extends far beyond the tangible structures he helped create. He also made us a more transparent, equitable, and sustainable place.”

A physical infrastructure that supports academic excellence, inclusive success, and a strong sense of community and place doesn’t happen by accident; it must be thoughtfully and intentionally created. Rick’s leadership helped Western reimagine planning and development, bringing a new focus on broad stakeholder participation, sustainability, accessibility, and holistic project planning.

Rick's connection to campus extends beyond his nearly four decades of work here. He grew up in Bellingham (Fairhaven), at times riding his bike or hiking with friends to campus (Haggard Hall and the first phases of Ridgeway were the “new buildings” at the time). He attended WWU as a student, completing many of his GURs (and is considered a WWU Alumni) before graduating from the University of Washington. He was inspired by his student advisor, Professor Dick Vogel in the Technology Department, to go into architecture.

 After graduating with his architecture degree and working for several architecture firms, Rick came to WWU as an associate architect in 1985. He worked his way up to Senior Architect, Facilities and Master Plan Manager, Assistant Director for Planning, and eventually University Architect, a role he has held since 2008. In that time, he has left his mark on virtually every corner of campus.

Rick developed and successfully implemented a new bottom-up, transparent capital planning process and has established strong relationships across the university and beyond to gather data crucial for creating spaces and learning tools that are truly responsive to the needs of a diverse student body. He led the effort for the University’s first LEED-certified project, initiated the inclusion of sustainability in our campus standards and guidelines, and continues to explore innovative solutions for reducing Western’s carbon footprint. And his ability to track the pulse and ensure accountability on such a wide range of responsibilities and projects without losing sight of overarching goals is truly remarkable.

Assistant Director of Planning and Development Alexis Blue, University Architect Rick Benner and Capital Budget and Public Works Procurement Director Brian Ross at the dedication of the Interdisciplinary Science Building.

Rick guided Western’s largest expansion efforts, including the planning and placement of its sciences buildings and the south campus expansion. Rick considered not just the buildings but the creation of spaces between them to support learning. He also led the development of the University Master Plans, including institutional profiles, facility condition and functional surveys, and campus character study.

While the depth and breadth of Rick’s understanding of the requirements for creating a welcoming, functional, and equitable campus are invaluable, his core beliefs in equity, collaboration, and kindness and the culture they foster are perhaps his greatest contributions. He is adept at considering diverse perspectives and finding common ground to maximize positive outcomes using available resources.

Rick is generous with his time and encyclopedic knowledge of his craft and campus history, but his true mentorship comes from the example of living his values and working toward a vision of campus where the built environment fully reflects Western’s mission and values as an institution. Please join us on June 20th to help express our deepest gratitude for all Rick has done for Western and to celebrate his exceptional career and contributions.