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Thursday, August 1, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lake Washington college breaks ground for center

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Lake Washington Technical College will officially break ground today on a $17 million technology building to be completed in late 2003.

The taxpayer-financed, 60,000-square-foot building will increase instructional space by 20 percent and allow the Kirkland school to increase enrollment from about 9,000 to about 11,000 full- and part-time students, according to Raymond Nadolny, vice president for institutional advancement.

Despite the collapse of the high-tech economy, college President Mike Metke said the technology building is coming at just the right time.

"During a down economy, we get overrun," he said.

That's because recently laid-off workers are looking for new skills, and the lucky employed seek to add depth and reach to their skill base, Metke said.

Students' average age is 33, and about one-third already have a college degree, both well above the average for community-college students statewide. From those numbers college officials conclude that the students are already actively in the work force or want to be, and need help now.

The college is about 900 students over capacity, Metke said.

Although it has added sections to its automotive, dentistry and health programs to meet increased demand in those areas, Metke said technology is still emerging.

"None of us have gone backward in our use of technology," he said. Traditional vocational areas are requiring more technological competence than ever before, he added.

The building, which was designed with input from faculty, students and regional employers, will add 20 classrooms with 800 computers, as well as two science labs, a computer-training center and a library.

The 20,000-square-foot, two-story library will be the jewel of the new building and may become the focal point of what will be a very different campus, Nadolny said.

As opposed to housing the traditional lonely stacks of dusty hardbacks, this library will store much of its content digitally and allow users to get at information on 120 laptop and desktop workstations, all wired with high-speed Internet connections.

A digital design studio adjacent to the library will allow students to create content, such as digital animation for the Web, which will then be stored in the library.

Architect Keith Schreiber of Schreiber & Lane said he sought to integrate the new building into the existing campus.

The building's design will resemble others on campus, which might be described as industrial chic. The industrial feel is mitigated by lots of open air, a massive skylight and brightly painted, exposed ductwork and other materials. Steel and concrete will be the primary building materials, Schreiber said.

"It's almost Ayn Rand," Nadolny said, referring to the American novelist whose book "The Fountainhead" featured a protagonist who espoused an architectural philosophy that wedded form and function.

Integrating the natural environment into the new building was another design objective, Schreiber said. The campus is built into a hillside and surrounded by stately trees. The library's floor-to-ceiling glass walls will look out toward that landscape, a paradoxical setting given the building's technology focus.

Patterned stonework and copious art, including a massive obelisk, will help blend the building into the existing campus and the landscape, Schreiber said.

Clarification: The new building at Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland was designed by Harry Cummings of Cummings Associates Architects. Keith Schreiber is the construction-phase architect.

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