Amazon is donating $10 million toward the cost of a new computer-science building on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus.
Amazon will donate $10 million toward the construction of a new computer-science building on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, the company announced Thursday.
The donation brings total commitments for the building to $86 million; the construction cost is estimated at $110 million. The building will rise east of the university’s existing computer-science building, the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering. More than 60 percent of the money raised so far has come from private sources.
The building — which does not yet have a name — will allow the UW to double the number of students who can major in the university’s most desirable field. More freshmen entering the UW this fall named computer science as their preferred major than any other field.
But the UW routinely has to turn away about two-thirds of the students vying to major in computer science each year, in part because it lacks the space to teach the courses.
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Space is at a premium, as well, because many students who major in something else want to take a few courses to understand the basics of computer science, which intersects with many fields. Last year, 5,000 students enrolled in the UW’s introductory computer-science class.
Grads are highly sought after “yet we are turning away excellent students who want to pursue studies in the field because we simply don’t have enough room,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce in a statement.
With the new space, the UW will aim to graduate about 600 students a year in computer science. The 130,000-square-foot building will include classrooms and collaborative spaces, expanded research labs, a 250-seat auditorium (to be called the Amazon Auditorium and Gallery) and flexible event space.
Construction is scheduled to begin in January, and the building is expected to open in early 2019.
In a statement, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos called the UW “a world-class institution, and we are lucky to have thousands of UW graduates inventing and pioneering in Seattle — including right here at Amazon.”
In its early years, Amazon was significantly less active in philanthropy than some of the region’s other corporations. But recently it’s started to loosen the purse strings.
In 2012, the company established two $1 million endowed professorships in computer science and engineering at the UW, and it recently launched the Amazon Catalyst program, which funds research into world-changing ideas at universities. The company is also giving the UW free greenhouse space for the next two years for 9,000 plants displaced by the construction of the university’s new Life Sciences Building.
David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, told reporters that Amazon’s increasing visibility as a corporate citizen is mainly due to the larger opportunities afforded to it by its growth.
“It’s less of a philosophical change, rather than people noticing it more,” Zapolsky said.
The $10 million gift is also a strategic move that addresses the shortage of talent seen by Amazon and other players of the red-hot tech industry. “This is about bottlenecks,” the executive said.
Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair for Computer Science & Engineering at the UW, said via email that the donation offered more than just support for UW’s computer-science department: “It is a major philanthropic commitment by Amazon for the future of our region,” he said.
It’s also the second $10 million contribution the UW has received for the new building. More than a year ago, Microsoft donated $10 million to kick-start the giving.
The UW has also received $32.5 million in state money, The rest of the private money has been committed, but the donors have not yet been announced, Lazowska said.
The building is going up where the More Hall Annex used to be, a small building that once housed a nuclear reactor.
It became the center of a legal fight between preservationists, who wanted to save it, and university officials, who wanted to demolish it. The city of Seattle joined the suit, saying the UW needed to follow the city’s landmarks-preservation ordinance.
A King County Superior Court judge ruled in the UW’s favor, and a few weeks later, the university razed the building.
Once that obstacle was removed, the donations began streaming in. The UW expects to raise the rest of the money privately now, Lazowska said.
“We have tremendous momentum now, and we are optimistic we will be able to begin construction on schedule in January,” he said.