It’s still a dump — just not very dumpy. Seattle’s new North Transfer Station is less noisy and less smelly, accepts recyclable items and has amenities that include a green roof and a basketball court.
This might be the least dumpy dump you’ve ever seen.
The amenities at Seattle’s new North Transfer Station include airtight doors that open automatically to let trucks in, a translucent ceiling that ushers in energy-saving natural light and an angled wall that reflects noise pollution back across the site.
There are more: a green roof, solar panels, shrubs and a rain garden, a basketball court, artwork made with excavated rebar and a playground across the street.
Built on the same Wallingford site as its predecessor but with an expanded footprint, the $108 million station opened on Nov. 28 after about two years of construction.
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Unexpected environmental remediation helped push the price tag higher, said Andy Ryan, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). It was $96 million in 2014.
Many Seattle adults who visit the station will remember from childhood the thrill of heaving junk into the pit at the old dump — and the satisfaction of watching a bulldozer crawl menacingly over the trash at the bottom, pulverizing the debris with its heavy tracks.
They won’t be able to re-create such memories, however, because the pit is gone: In the new station’s main building, customers tip their junk onto the concrete floor.
Bulldozers gather the garbage, then send it down a chute to be compacted for shipping containers. The containers are loaded onto trailers bound for a Sodo rail yard.
The floor has two separate sections — one for large, commercial haulers and the other for regular folks. The story ends when the trash reaches a landfill in Oregon.
“We’ve made major safety improvements,” said Ken Snipes, director of solid-waste for SPU. “In the past, people could fall into the pit. They occasionally did. Now you just throw your waste on the floor and the crews take care of it.”
Unlike the old station, which opened in 1967, the new station has a separate building for recyclable and reusable materials — there are sections for batteries, motor oil, glass, paper products. And bicycles, too — SPU gives some to Bike Works, a Columbia City nonprofit that repairs and sells them at affordable prices, Snipes said.
The recycling is free — customers with only recyclable items don’t need to weigh in.
Those with trash proceed to a scale house tucked behind the main building. That’s another change from before, when the queue for the scale house backed into traffic along 34th Avenue North. Drivers now have space to queue around the main building.
The station has room for the recycling building and for queuing because SPU grew the site by taking over Carr Place North between North 34th Street and North 35th Street. Some of the station’s amenities are mitigation for that action.
SPU also grew the site by purchasing an Oroweat bakery property on the other side of Carr Place North. What was the bakery’s parking lot, across North 35th Street from the site, is now an SPU-built playground with climbing structures.
The Essential Baking Company’s Wallingford cafe, which looks out at the new station from Woodlawn Avenue North, hearkens to the area’s yeasty past.
The aroma of baked goods is easier to detect outside the station than the stench of garbage — the main building’s special doors trap bad odors inside, Snipes said.
“They’re called quick up-down doors,” the SPU official said. “When the customer pulls up, the door opens. The customer drives in, and the door closes behind them.”
There are other design elements meant to shield neighbors from smells and noise.
The new station is unique nationwide in that its dirty work happens underground, Snipes said: There’s a lower level for compacting, container-loading and trailer traffic.
Digging down also helped SPU keep the street profile of the station relatively low.
“The trailers are in the belly of the building,” Snipes said, surveying the site from the playground. “Most people have no idea it’s a transfer station, and that’s a good thing.”
Like other Seattle projects, the station has public art — a tangle of rebar from the old station’s demolition, painted orange.
The piece looks like a jungle gym but is supposed to conjure the topographical contours of Wallingford and Fremont, Snipes said.
The station is built to resist earthquake damage and has a backup generator, he noted. When the “Big One” hits, Seattle will need to get rid of a lot of debris.
SPU worked with the Wallingford Community Council in designing the station and deciding how it would operate.
Lee Raaen, who’s active on the council, said the parties executed a contract covering matters of neighborhood concern. Raaen said he’s pleased with the outcome.
That wasn’t inevitable. Cities across the country often encounter challenges when siting such stations, and the Wallingford council is a pugnacious group.
“We’ve been able to site a transfer station in an affluent urban neighborhood; that just doesn’t happen,” said Ryan, the SPU spokesman.