Construction is expected to start this summer on a new building to house the Burke Museum collection on the University of Washington campus.
The University of Washington is expected to begin construction this summer on a new, $82.5 million building to house the Burke Museum collection, even though it doesn’t have all the money in hand to complete it.
The building fund is short by $24 million, money that has been promised by the Legislature but won’t be allocated for another year. That puts UW officials in the uncomfortable position of starting construction on a building without enough money to finish the job.
“Everyone here is uncomfortable with this — no one likes ‘trust me,’ especially when we’re talking about millions of dollars,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce told the UW Regents during a meeting Thursday. Still, she recommended that construction go forward. The project will come back to the board for final approval next month.
Paul Jenny, the UW’s senior vice president for planning and management, said legislators want the project to start soon because the cost of construction is expected to keep rising.
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Jenny said two state legislators, Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, have sent the UW a letter pledging the funding will be allocated next year. The two men are chairs of the capital budget committees for their respective houses.
“We think it’s an acceptable risk,” Jenny said.
If the state doesn’t allocate the additional $24 million, he said, there’s enough money in hand to create a shell of a building, with exterior cladding and a roof. That shell could then sit, without degrading, until the $24 million comes through.
The existing Burke Museum, a state institution administered by the UW, was built for $2 million in the 1960s. It has no central air conditioning or climate controls, which puts its collection of 15 million objects, including cultural treasures such as Northwest Coast native artwork, at risk of degradation.
The building will be built at the corner of 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 45th Street, just west of the museum’s existing brick-and-concrete building, which will be torn down. Its exterior along 15th Avenue will be made of glass, allowing passers-by to look into laboratories where naturalists and curators will work with the collections.
The UW is eager to construct the new Burke because it will become an outward-facing window for the university’s work. Part of its aim is to remove a perceived wall between the campus and the community.
The Legislature last year allocated $26 million to the project, adding to $3.5 million in design money it previously provided. The Burke has raised $19.5 in private money, and the UW has put aside $7.5 million of its own funds. Public-arts funding from King County and the city of Seattle has kicked in another $1.9 million.
Construction is scheduled to begin in July. If the remaining funding comes through, the collection and exhibits would be moved into the new building in May 2018, and the building would be open in fall 2019.