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  1999 Construction & Equipment Forecast


1999 Construction & Equipment Forecast
March 8, 1999

UW Tacoma preserves and transforms a neighborhood

Special to the Journal

The University of Washington Tacoma continues to grow, building a 21st century future on a 19th century foundation.

Snoqualmie Falls Power transformer house
The Snoqualmie Falls Power Co.'s transformer house was renovated as the central library's reading room.
Photo courtesy of LMN

Established in 1997, the 46-acre campus is both preserving and transforming Tacoma's historic Union Station/Warehouse District as expansion marches uphill from Pacific Avenue toward Tacoma Avenue, four blocks south.

So far, the university occupies only a fraction of its campus, but a facilities master plan identifies potential sites for dozens more buildings in subsequent phases as the need arises.

And officials have no doubt it will. Tacoma's current enrollment of 1,300 is expected to swell to 10,000 over the next decade, said Mike Wark, communications officer.

Phase I, which encompassed four projects, is nearly complete. The university launched the final project in January.

Later this year, the Legislature is expected to award construction funds for Phase 2, which consists of five projects. Phase 2 will add classrooms, offices, a science lab and an auditorium, plus expand the library. It also will complete an unfinished Phase I project.

Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, Calif., with assistance from LMN Architects of Seattle, designed the $39.1 million first phase, which recently won an award for urban design from the American Institute of Architects.

Part of the $76.4 million second phase also is being designed by that team, only this time, LMN will take the lead. Three firms McGranahan Partnership of Tacoma (lead) and Boyle/Wagoner and Miller Hull Partnership, both of Seattle are designing the other part.

McCarthy of Bellevue was the general contractor for all of Phase I except the final project a 13,000-square-foot classroom facility being built by Bodenhammer Inc. of Olympia.

The university expects to seek bids on the first portion of Phase 2 in September of this year and the second portion in May of 2000.

Besides requesting construction funds for Phase 2, the university is asking the Legislature to provide predesign money for Phase 3. Those funds would be used to determine the scope of the next phase.

Exactly how many more phases will be required to complete the campus is unknown. John Idstrom, director of development, guessed it could take 20 years and $1 billion.

Although expansion is necessary to accommodate a surging enrollment and an evolving curriculum, the branch campus is not just getting bigger. With every brick, it is forging an identity.

UW Library
Students find study space in the library.
Photo by Timothy Hursley

"We don't use the word branch anymore," said Idstrom, gently correcting a visitor. "We've been trying to purge that from our vocabulary. For the last couple of years, we've just referred to it as the Tacoma campus of the University of Washington."

The goal is to create the look and feel of being very much its own institution, he said. Internally, it's already feeling like that.

Except inside the Dawg Shed.

Named in honor of the UW Husky athletic teams, the Dawg Shed is a former loading area squeezed between two turn-of-the-century Tacoma buildings one already remodeled into classrooms and the other soon to be.

There, in a cavernous space beneath a corrugated roof supported by rusty steel trusses, students gathered last fall to watch the football team from the UW's Seattle campus play Nebraska and Washington State on a big-screen TV.

"We don't have the sports teams or anything like that, so we're just being creative with what we can do," said Idstrom.

Besides football parties, the Dawg Shed has hosted live music and a black-tie fund-raising dinner attended by 400 people, said Idstrom.

Someone once suggested razing the Dawg Shed.

"There was an uproar," said Idstrom. "People really like it."

Although lacking the architectural appeal of surrounding structures, the Dawg Shed's survival reflects the university's strategy of preserving the neighborhood's character while charting a fresh direction.

Washington State History Museum
A view of campus from the entrance to the Washington State History Museum across the street.
Photo by Timothy Hursley

The UW first offered classes in Tacoma in 1990 in a building downtown before the current campus opened in 1997. The university chose the warehouse district because of its easy freeway access, proximity to Tacoma's redeveloping downtown and the synergy of restoring old historic buildings, said Idstrom.

Most of these buildings were in imminent danger of being demolished by neglect.

All three of the university's existing buildings are remodeled structures two with modern additions that mimic the red brick exterior of the older facilities.

Once home to such businesses as West Coast Grocery (1891) and Birmingham Hay and Seed (1893), the burly buildings with elegant arching windows now house classrooms where students can earn three bachelor's degrees (business administration, liberal studies and nursing), three master's degrees (education, nursing and social work) plus a teaching certificate.

If the Legislature approves an additional $6.6 million in operating funds for the next biennium, the UW Tacoma will broaden existing programs and offer three new degrees a bachelor's in computing and software and master's degrees in management of change and interdisciplinary studies.

As the campus creeps south up the bluff, it will find fewer and fewer buildings worth preserving. However, new buildings will continue to reflect the classic brick construction of the old warehouses that form the heart of the existing campus, said Idstrom.

The lower portion of the campus lies within an official historic district that includes Union Station and the new Washington State History Museum, which sit on the other side of Pacific Avenue.

As a result, designs have had to pass muster with the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"We weren't free to do just anything we wanted to do," said architect Rich Wilson of LMN. "The approach was what we call adaptive reuse."

UW Tacoma campus
The UW Tacoma campus may take 20 years and $1 billion to complete
Photo by Timothy Hursley

They preserved the exterior of the buildings, but gutted the insides and filled them with classrooms and offices. In some instances, old buildings that butted against each other now function as one since entryways were punched through walls.

For example, a structure now known as the Academic Building once was the West Coast Grocery, Birmingham Hay & Seed, Birmingham Block and Garretson Woodruff Pratt buildings. It's still possible to detect which of the original buildings you're in because the entries aren't level.

The Academic Building and the Class Lab Building both boast five-story atriums. Wood from massive old-growth timbers that were removed to make room for the atriums was remilled and used as paneling.

Wilson's favorite campus feature is the library reading room, which occupies the former Snoqualmie Falls Power Co. Transformer House.

Built in 1902 and in service until 1958, the building was in ruins and full of pigeons when the architects got hold of it, said Wilson. Now, the rectangular building with high peaked roof provides a bright and airy space to study.

Overhead hovers the skeleton of giant wooden crane that once hoisted transformers into place. Now it's the mother of all library ladders, said Wilson.

Restoring old buildings is a challenge because they must be brought up to current codes. However, in the case of the UW Tacoma campus, the result has been rewarding.

"It's a very precious, authentic district that we're happy to preserve and extend and sort of give a new life," said Wilson.


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