Seattle’s proposed new police station isn’t a bunker. It’s a boondoggle — designed that way to try to placate some of the same groups that are now protesting it.
How did a Seattle police station bloat up to what is believed to be a U.S. record price tag of $149 million?
“Block the Bunker” protesters who stormed City Hall this week have their own theory. It’s that a white-supremacist Seattle City Council wants to give police a militarized stronghold from which they can rule the community.
“Our story is that this is not a police precinct. Our story is that it is a police bunker. And it is there to militarize our police force,” one protester told the council.
But the reality is the obscene price tag of the proposed North Precinct building has as much to do with trying to placate these same protesters — as well as other Seattle interest groups — as it does with the police.
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At the first design meeting to review the station, more than two years ago, records show the architects were scolded to make sure the building would be less of a conventional police station than a civic gathering spot.
“The team must strive to erode the fortress feeling by incorporating more permeability and transparency,” say the minutes of the Seattle Design Commission, from May 2014. It even suggested the building be stripped of any markings signaling that it is, in fact, a police station.
“The Commission remains concerned about the facade and its impact on the public realm,” some later minutes read. To welcome the public, the building should employ the “use of mirrors, innovative materials, or a poetic treatment, rather than relying on the SPD letters as a design motif.”
As any builder can tell you, poetry costs money. But poetry and civic engagement, not militarization, is why this police station now contains the following:
An amphitheater for outdoor movies and concerts. Rain gardens. A yoga/community meeting room. An interactive boulder playground (to be frolicked upon by people in shorts and sun dresses, according to the drawings.) A bike-repair station. A “headwaters feature” — basically a pool with a splash stream designed to “celebrate stormwater.” A skatepark. Swirling concrete pathways inlaid with curvilinear metal that riff off a famed Danish park. Uplit terraced gardens. A rooftop running track.
“A light glow will project from the building facade while the soffit underneath the building canopy will include a lighting feature that emulates a ‘starry night,’ ” a design slideshow reads.
But that’s not all! For the eco-conscious, the building comes with a geothermal heating system, featuring 152 heat-capture tubes drilled 300 feet deep into the earth. There are plans for 48,000 square feet of solar panels (though the council now may put the solar on hold to save money). There’s also a skylighted, landscaped green roof.
It’s true the station will have policey stuff like a firing range, a training facility and bulletproof glass. But it is hardly a bunker. It is instead trying to be all things — a community center, a park, a performing-arts facility, a playground, an art gallery, and a platinum-certified green model for civic construction.
It’s little wonder the price tag zoomed from $89 million to $149 million — a 67 percent increase before work even begins.
All this would be located on Aurora at North 130th Street, next to a Comcast warehouse, a truck-maintenance facility and a hazardous-materials dump station. Signs up and down the street read “Prostitution & Drug Watch Area. License numbers are being recorded.”
Are citizens in sun dresses going to come here — where there aren’t regular sidewalks — to do yoga, listen to concerts or linger to gaze at an emulated starry sky?
Or should we maybe just build a police station.
The irony of adding all the placating amenities is that a frugal, old-fashioned police station probably wouldn’t have morphed into such a palatial symbol of oppression, as this building has.
Now it’s a boondoggle, of a piece with the colossally bloated fire-station projects. I was glad to see some on the City Council finally acknowledge that something systemic is broken, calling for a new oversight committee for capital projects. The goal is to try to figure out why so many Seattle projects are so out of whack.
My hunch is it comes down to this: When you say yes to everyone and everything — when you try to placate all interests — it doesn’t relieve the pressure. It leads to more demands, ever bigger budgets and, in an enabling cycle, more placating. That’s what happened Monday when the council bowed to protesters by ordering a racial-equity review of the building’s design — adding to, not subtracting from, the project’s costs.
They got called fascists and racists regardless. Seattle’s left-wing politics has begun to eat itself.