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Friday, September 12, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New law school wows UW grad it's named for

Seattle Times staff reporter

Law-school dedication


What: Dedication and grand opening of William H. Gates Hall

When: 10 a.m. today, ribbon-cutting ceremony and speeches. Keynote address by Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York. Other speakers include William Gates Sr., William Gates III, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Gov. Gary Locke, University of Washington interim president Lee Huntsman and UW law-school dean W.H. Knight Jr.

Where: William H. Gates Hall. Just south of Burke Museum. Enter off Northeast 45th Street at 17th Avenue Northeast gate.

Forget the building's stylistic terraces or the distinctive trapezoidal columns that adorn the exterior. The first thing William Gates Sr. comments on as he strolls through the University of Washington law school's new home are the restrooms. One is for women. One is co-ed.

"I've never seen that alignment before," Gates Sr. said.

Things have changed since Gates, 77, roamed this campus as an undergraduate and law student in the days after World War II.

Gates said he always intended to remain connected to his alma mater, and he has, serving on the Board of Regents and chairing the UW Foundation and its $2 billion fund-raising campaign.

But no amount of involvement led him to expect this: A new $80 million law school named after him.

"Heavens no, I could never have dreamed about that," said the 6-foot-6 father of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

The law school will dedicate its new digs, formally dubbed William H. Gates Hall, today at a public ceremony. The building, all 196,000 square feet, six stories of it, was shouldered by a $12 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is the second building on campus to bear the Gates name (Mary Gates Hall, named after Gates Sr.'s late wife, was dedicated in 2000) and another sign of Microsoft's growing impact on the state's flagship university.

Since 1995, the Gates Foundation has provided about $119 million to the university for various projects, including a $70 million gift announced last spring for the new genome-science building.

Next month, the university will dedicate its computer science and engineering center, named after Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who donated $14 million to the project. Allen previously has donated $20 million to the UW through his various foundations — $10 million created the Allen Library, donated in the memory of his late father, Kenneth, who was an associate librarian there; and $5 million went to the Henry Art Gallery/Faye G. Allen Center for Visual Arts, named for his mother.

Gates Sr. called the gift to the law school a sentimental gesture from his son, who also made an endowment in his late mother's name.

"I know what his thinking was there, he had such respect for his mother," Gates Sr. said. "I have no doubt it was a parallel situation here."

His son said naming the building after his father was a "natural."

"Anyone who knows my dad knows that two of his central passions are the law and his alma mater," the younger Gates said in an e-mail. "I'm thrilled that future law students will be reminded of his legacy and enormous contributions to the university every time they walk through the law center's doors."

Construction dust still in the air, Gates Sr. took a reporter on a tour of the building this week, his first visit since construction began. "Holy smoke," he exclaimed as he stepped into the elegant, dark-paneled trial courtroom, one of the building's centerpieces. "Look at this."

More expressions of delight came as he ambled through the submerged two-story library, brightly lit by the trapezoidal skylights that on the outside resemble nouveau sculpture. The building was designed by New York-based Kohn Pedersen Fox in association with Mahlum Architects of Seattle.

Most of the funding for the building, $44.2 million, came from a UW bond sale. An additional $34.3 million, including the Gates Foundation gift, was given by private donors, and the remaining $1.5 million came from the state.

Law-school officials had been pushing for more than a decade to replace John T. Condon Hall, a joyless concrete structure built in 1974 off the central campus that, officials said, was too small and impossible to modernize. The thick concrete walls made it difficult to rewire for today's computerized classrooms. The building was only partially accessible to people with disabilities. The American Bar Association had twice said it was unsuitable for today's cyber-dependent study of law.

"It was an example of early Stalinist architecture, someone said," quipped Ronald Hjorth, dean emeritus of the law school who continues to teach there. "It did not uplift the spirits."

Hjorth, along with professor Richard O. Kummert, will have classrooms named after them, thanks to donations from them, their families and friends.

The structure, near the historic campus core, comes with an array of new technology: high-powered Internet access, designated distance learning rooms, computerized podiums with Internet access, DVD and PowerPoint capability.

Dean W.H. Knight Jr. called the new building and its high-tech classrooms a "spectacular addition to legal education and to university education worldwide."

But despite shiny new quarters, the law school faces challenges. Minority enrollment remains down since 1998, when voter-passed Initiative 200 ended affirmative action in enrollments and hiring.

And today's law students will be paying more than ever. When Gates Sr. graduated from the law school in 1950, tuition was $56 a quarter. This fall incoming law students will pay more than $4,300 a quarter.

The higher tuition concerns Gates Sr., who paid for school through the GI Bill after serving as an infantry officer.

"I worry about that a lot," he said. "If you speak in terms of fellow institutions around the country, we're not getting out of line at all. But I do think it's true that one has to be very, very conscientious of the need to subsidize people who need subsidization."

To that end, the law school is raising scholarship money to help offset the higher costs, Gates Sr. said. "We want a class-free law school, we don't want a law school that's only for the well-to-do."

Ray Rivera: 206-464-2926 or rayrivera@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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