Northwest Maritime Center, one of the primary partners driving the advancement of the Highline School District’s new Maritime High School, has received more than $2 million from two Washington state donors: the McCaw Family and Bezos Family foundations. The center will use these funds for maritime education initiatives it coordinates throughout the Puget Sound region. 

Northwest Maritime Chief Development Officer Stephen Streufert said the center “set a ridiculously high and ambitious” $18.6 million fundraising goal, despite the economic stressors of the coronavirus pandemic. With the projected turnover in the maritime industry, Streufert said, the center can’t afford to wait to recruit, train and retain people for this workforce. 

A $750,000 gift from the Bezos Family Foundation will support operational costs of the high school over the next four years.

Through the McCaw gift — which totals $2 million — $500,000 will support project-based learning opportunities for Maritime High School students. The school currently has 36 members in its inaugural freshman class, with a goal to raise enrollment to 400 over the next four years. Northwest Maritime Center partners with Highline Public Schools, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and Port of Seattle to coordinate hands-on and immersive experiences for students on the water and in the classroom. 

“These kids are taking an enormous risk on coming to a new high school,” said Streufert, noting that the partners have been working to ensure Maritime High has sufficient funds now to support its staff, students and experiential learning through 2025. The school is currently run at a temporary site in Des Moines, but plans to raise the funds to build a permanent school in South Park, near the Duwamish River. 

Bruce McCaw, who has previously been a donor to Highline’s Raisbeck Aviation High School, said in a news release: “Their work to provide hands-on learning experiences that connect youth to the water surrounding us is powerful. We see this as a strong opportunity to support our maritime industry and its future.”

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Another $500,000 will be used to establish the Keith W. McCaw Boatshop at the Northwest Maritime Center. The boat shop’s namesake, who died in 2002, was an heir to the billion-dollar family business, McCaw Cellular Communications. 

The boat shop offers boatbuilding classes, maritime and oceanographic research programs for schools and an empowerment program for middle school girls who are mentored by female shipwrights through the Girls’ Boat Project. Northwest Maritime Executive Director Jake Beattie in a statement said the boat shop is “a source of skill-building, employment readiness, and a second chance for adjudicated youth through a program called Real World Readiness.” 

The remaining $1 million of the McCaw funds will help the center purchase its Water Street neighbor, the Swan Hotel, along the Port Townsend waterfront. Northwest Maritime Center will complete the purchase on Dec. 31, and resume running the business on Jan. 1, 2022, to initially use revenue toward other maritime projects until the center establishes a plan to reconfigure the hotel space for its purposes. 

According to the Peninsula Daily News, the center is also leasing a 5,350-square-foot lot, where the former Landfall Restaurant used to be, with the intent to build a one-story, flexible use, net zero energy community classroom. The space will be used by the center, the Port Townsend Maritime Academy, and will potentially be used for other community events and programs. 

The funds received are being counted toward Northwest Maritime Center’s projections for what it needs: $7.5 million for Maritime High, $6.5 million for the center’s youth programs and a $4.6 million capital campaign to expand the center’s footprint in Port Townsend.

To learn more about Maritime High School, members of the community can attend a virtual grand opening program at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 9. Visit maritime.highlineschools.org and click on the school’s calendar to learn more and to RSVP.