Objections Raised Over Plan For New UW Law School
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
There hasn't been a fight like this over a proposed building on the University of Washington campus since 1988, when Paul Allen pledged $10 million to enhance a new $36 million library that was named for his father.
That project threatened a grove of trees, until protesting faculty, staff and students got the administration to call off the chain saw.
The new flap, much bigger and more provocative, is over a proposed $52 million, 200,000-square-foot building for the Law School.
So far, the project has conditional funding from the Legislature for design, has a preferred site and a preliminary ruling from the city that allows it to move forward. But it is far from a done deal.
Disgruntled critics - from firebrand academics to concerned University District residents - have drawn up a litany of alleged sins. They claim:
-- The building was leapfrogged over higher-priority projects without adequate public discussion.
-- It departs from the UW's own agreement with the city on how the campus should be developed.
-- It will infringe on some of the last open space on campus.
-- It raises questions about how education dollars are spent in a time of tight budgets.
"There seems to be plenty of money from the Legislature to build new buildings," says architecture professor Folke Nyberg. "On the other hand, there've been cutbacks in education . . .
"Lawyers obviously are very influential in the state
Legislature as well as the community. They're getting a very prime site that from my perspective is not warranted."
Under the original proposal, the new building would have eaten up much of the Campus Green, which extends west from Memorial Way to 15th Avenue Northeast and is intersected by Northeast 42nd Street.
The Green is shaded by tall old trees and criss-crossed with paved paths. It attracts all manner of campus and community users: crows, deep thinkers, tai chi practitioners, day-care kids, students scurrying to class and the like. It acts as a transition space that blends the bustling U-District business community with the quieter campus.
The proposed incursion on the Green elicited a huge outcry: nearly 600 e-mail messages in the first 12 days of February.
In response, an administration committee has recommended reducing the site by about a third, keeping it to about half of the Burke Museum parking lot and saving more of the Campus Green. It also recommended other changes in the plans for the site and building.
"These are bumps in the road. Some of the bumps in the road are good to make us aware of the much wider needs of the community," says Roland Hjorth, dean of the Law School.
A public meeting on the committee's report and any other issues concerning the new Law School building is scheduled for Monday.
There's general agreement that something needed to be done about the Law School's building. The school is now housed in Condon Hall, an ugly, badly designed, 20-year-old structure. With its narrow halls, windowless classrooms and sparse public spaces, the exposed concrete building is only slightly more appealing than the county jail.
It's hardly as secure as the jail, though: Condon Hall's library, spread out over several floors, loses about $400,000 a year in stolen books.
Overall, it is "a miserable structure," says Hjorth. "The future of this law school is not bright, if we stay in this building."
Originally, the plan was to expand Condon Hall by 60,000 square feet. But the Legislature twice failed to provide the funds, and a team of architects eventually concluded that a new building would be better.
"Then there was a brilliant new idea," says Wallace Loh, who was Law School dean at the time and is now at the University of Colorado.
The new idea: Instead of building a new administrative-services building, which was part of the UW's long-range plans, use Condon Hall as a place to consolidate administrative services now scattered around campus. The money saved could go toward a new Law School building.
The Legislature approved $1.1 million for the building's design, on the condition that the UW raise $10 million from private sources by July 1, 1997. UW administrators presume that next year's Legislature will agree to fund about $34 million of the building's cost, conditioned on the UW's raising an additional $7 million privately. So far the UW has raised almost $15 million in gifts and pledges.
Funding procedures put the Law School building above some other clearly identified priorities.
At about the time architects were recommending a new Law School building and looking for sites, another campus committee was determining the importance of all future building plans on campus. Its advisory report acknowledged the needs of the Law School were great, but said they were surpassed by other crisis needs. One of those, a new Earth Sciences building, also was included in the UW's 1995-97 capital budget request, didn't receive funding while the Law School did. Now, as a result of the uproar, the administration has allocated money to begin pre-design on the Earth Sciences project.
In order to proceed with the building, the UW's 1991 Master Plan agreement with the city has to be amended. The plan regulates how much of the campus can be developed, and limits how much development is allowed in different sectors of the campus.
The city's Department of Construction and Land Use recently ruled that while the new Law School building, combined with other projects, would exceed the limits in the Central West Sector, this would require only a "minor" rather than "major" amendment to the Master Plan - meaning less public participation and in general less hassle for the UW. A major amendment would require City Council approval.
A hearing June 5 will consider two appeals against that ruling: one by University District businesses, professors and students under the name Friends of the UW Open Space, the other by the City-University Community Advisory Committee.
Meeting on Law School proposal
A public meeting on the final report for the new Law School site will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday in Room 220 of UW's Kane Hall. Copies of the report are available at UW library reference desks, or from certain UW copy centers. For specific sites, call 543-2580. Individuals may submit comments through April 12 by regular mail to Law Site, 301 Gerberding Hall, Box 351237 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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