The University of Washington’s master plan sketches out an ambitious future, with about 6 million square feet of new academic, research and office space added in the next dozen years.
Energized by a thriving tech economy and fueled by a research arm that brings in more than a billion dollars in federal grant money every year, the University of Washington has ambitions to build 6 million additional square feet of academic, office and research space on its Seattle campus.
The new buildings would make the university a third larger than it is today, square-footage-wise, as outlined by the UW’s draft master plan, released earlier this month and in the works for years.
It’s a plan that “creates a progressive and sustainable framework that will enable the UW’s continued evolution as a 21st-century institution,” said UW senior planner Theresa Doherty.
Learn more and comment on the plan
The UW will review the plan in a series of public meetings through early November. Comments can be sent via email until Nov. 21 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Oct. 25: Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Online Open House, noon-1 p.m., sign up at www.tinyurl.com/UWSeattleCampus-2018MasterPlanEIS
• Oct. 26: SEPA Public Hearing, 6:30-9 p.m., UW Tower Mezzanine Auditorium, 4333 Brooklyn Ave. N.E.
• Oct. 24: Drop-in office hours, 3-5 p.m., Café Allegro, 4214 University Way N.E. (Enter from the alley behind Magus Books.)
• Nov. 2: Drop-in office hours, 2:30-4-30 p.m., Hotel Deca, 4507 Brooklyn Ave. N.E.
The plan comes just as the Seattle City Council prepares to take up an upzone of the University District’s commercial and residential space later this year. The upzone paves the way for a significant increase in building heights and density in the neighborhood next door to the university.
Together, the upzone and the master plan will set the stage for a surge of new growth in the North Seattle neighborhood for years to come.
And that’s what worries some U District residents.
“The scale of it is what really gets me,” said John Fox, coordinator of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, a group of neighborhood activists who have pushed back against the city’s rapid growth. “When you look at all the cumulative effects of these changes, we’re looking at an attempt to turn the U District into another piece of downtown.”
Fox and others fear that growth on and off campus will strain the capacity of the transportation system, lead to the loss of moderately priced housing on the district’s periphery and change the funky character of University Way Northeast, known as The Ave.
The master plan is a framework, not a blueprint for what will actually be built, said Doherty, the project director overseeing the master plan. It must still go through several steps, including a public-comment period through Nov. 21, before it is finalized, approved by the Board of Regents and sent to the City Council for approval — likely in 2018.
And the buildings sketched out on the plan can’t be constructed until the university has the money for them, through state appropriations, private funding or internal lending. “As funding becomes available, new buildings would align with this plan,” Doherty said.
But the plan shows the surge of growth that’s coming. The UW expects its enrollment, and the size of its faculty and staff, to grow 20 percent between 2014 and 2028. To accommodate the growth, the UW says it needs an additional 6 million square feet in academic, research and staff space in the next decade — in part, an analysis shows, because the university already has a space deficit when compared with its peers.
The plan by the numbers
• Enrollment is expected to grow by 20 percent over the next decade; by 2028, the equivalent of 52,399 full-time students will attend UW-Seattle.
• The size of the staff and faculty will grow by 20 percent as well — to 19,563 staffers and 8,517 faculty.
• Square footage of academic, research and office buildings will go from 16.6 million square feet to 22.6 million square feet over the life of the master plan.
• The master-plan analysis suggests the UW is lagging its peers in space, especially in the areas of office space, and teaching and research labs.
• The number of parking spots will remain capped at 12,300 stalls.
UW Draft Master Plan
The UW aspires to have greater global impact, Doherty said, and “we need these new buildings and green spaces that encourage and provide for collaboration, experiential learning, working across disciplines and transforming the lives of everyone around us.”
Although it is difficult to predict how many buildings will actually be constructed in the next decade, the last 13 years may be a guide: With a major national recession and sharp cutbacks to higher education, the UW still has been on a growth tear.
Since the current master plan was adopted in 2003, the UW has replaced 1950s-era dorms with six modern residence halls. It has put up an apartment complex and a new research building on West Campus, renovated Husky Stadium and built a new computer science center, molecular engineering sciences building and business school. Under construction: a new Burke Museum, biology building, underground animal research lab, and a second phase of the molecular engineering sciences building. On the drawing board and mostly funded: a new computer science building.
The UW owns 639 acres, and there are no plans to purchase more land, Doherty said. So the UW will grow by going up: tearing down old buildings on its periphery and building taller ones, including some that could reach 240 feet — about the height of the tallest building at UW Medical Center, the 17-story BB Tower, Doherty said. The UW also plans to eventually add about 40 acres of open space, including new parks along Portage Bay and a land bridge crossing Montlake Boulevard Northeast, although not all the space will be added by 2028.
The master plan identifies 85 new building sites, including nearly a dozen buildings east of Montlake Boulevard, but over the expected 10-year duration of this master plan, only about half of those would likely be constructed, Doherty said.
About half of the growth — 3 million square feet — will occur on West Campus, the area between Northeast Campus Parkway and Portage Bay. That’s the part of the plan that has U District neighbors most concerned.
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It’s this neighborhood, and the area north of it, that the UW wants to turn into an “innovation district,” where academic and research staff will partner with business, government institutions and nonprofits to create new businesses. Already, the UW rents space and provides programs to startup companies in three places: Fluke Hall, Startup Hall (in the UW-owned Condon building) and CoMotion, a privately owned building the UW is leasing north of 45th.
Shirley Nixon, a U District resident, said she worries the plan isn’t taking into account the kind of traffic that an innovation district will bring. Business people commuting to that area will be more likely to drive than take the train or ride a bike to work, as students and faculty often do, she argues. Yet the plan continues a cap on new parking stalls on campus; the UW has 12,300 parking spaces, the same number it had in 1984.
Fox, with the Seattle Displacement Coalition, said turning the area into a high-tech incubator could mean the eventual end of the district’s small, street-level businesses. He thinks it makes more sense for the growth to happen at the UW’s other two campuses, in Bothell and Tacoma.
The UW plans call for West Campus high-rises to be balanced out with green space, including a new park along Portage Bay. To open up the area, several buildings — including Bryants, the former home of the UW Police — will be torn down. The seven-acre park will also include a plaza, and the UW may ask the city to vacate a stretch of Boat Street to make the park bigger, Doherty said.
But Nixon said vacating part of Boat Street means the loss of more street parking.
The other area of campus that would change significantly under the plan is South Campus, the area that includes UW Medical Center and the Magnuson Health Sciences Center. That area could see an increase of 1.4?million square feet in office and research space, but the master plan also envisions providing a more accessible waterfront open space along Portage Bay.
Under the master plan, the center of campus — the area ringed by Stevens Way, with Drumheller Fountain roughly in the center — will stay largely as it is, a historic core of buildings in a parklike setting.
And while the plan shows a dozen new buildings on the UW’s property to the east of Montlake Boulevard, that area isn’t likely to develop anytime soon, Doherty said. It includes parking lot E1, the lot where Huskies tailgate during home football games, and a golf driving range. Both are built on top of a methane-producing landfill — an area that could liquefy in an earthquake — and it will be expensive to build there, Doherty said.
Nixon said if the master plan and upzone are both approved, the U District could change so dramatically that many residents won’t be able to stay, squeezed out by traffic and rising home prices.
“There are people who live here who thought they’d be spending their whole lives here,” Nixon said. “Is there some kind of compromise, where we can save the livability of the U District?”