With reporting by Ari Cetron
The $49 million project to upgrade, overhaul, and expand the Seattle Asian Art Museum could be just part of a decade or more of projects to upgrade the much-loved but aging features of Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park.
In October, Seattle Public Utilities said it is moving on with some needed short term repairs for the park’s iconic water tower but officials are starting to pull together a plan for a massive, multimillion dollar seismic overhaul of the landmarks-protected, 1906-built brick structure.
The summer of 2017 also looms as a milestone for delayed testing to conclude that will determine the fate of the park’s 22-million gallon reservoir. If the reservoir is to be capped and covered with more park land, Cal Anderson’s mid-2000s $20 million budget might look like a bargain.
In the schemes of history, this period of Volunteer Park’s existence will hopefully represent a flurry of early life improvements. In 2012, the park celebrated its centennial with an early burst of activity including overhauling its playground and continuing work to restore the Volunteer Park Conservatory. The playground overhaul was completed in 2013. Work was completed on the conservatory in late 2014.
Volunteer Park’s reservoir will remain in limbo until at least next summer. Seattle Public Utilities, which manages both the reservoir and the water tower, took the reservoir out of service in April 2013. At the time, SPU was starting a two-year study to determine if it could be removed from the drinking water system. In September 2015, right around the time that first study was to be wrapping up, SPU started a different study looking at the effect a major earthquake might have on Seattle’s water supply.
In the case of such an event, while electricity which operates pumping stations might go out, gravity should still be working, so having a lot of water at the top of Capitol Hill might prove very useful, not just for drinking, but also for fire suppression.
The seismic study, being conducted by G&E Engineering for $714,000, was supposed to be completed by the end of this year. However, changes to the scope of the project involving a more detailed look at seismic hazards has delayed the testing.
The end result is nothing is happening until the summer of 2017. At that time, SPU expects it should have all the information it needs to make a decision.
In the meantime, a smaller capital project to make needed repairs to crushed drain pipes and settlement around the base of the water tower is being planned. But the tower is lined up for much larger investments. If the park’s reservoir is to go back into service, a large steel tank bolted inside the brick tower needs to be recoated both inside an out, a 2015 assessment revealed. More significantly, the tank and the tower, which has been assigned one of the highest FEMA earthquake risk scores of any masonry building on Capitol Hill, needs to be upgraded to meet seismic codes.
Currently, the water in Volunteer Park is not considered usable for drinking water. Since the reservoir is not covered, it doesn’t meet health department requirements. The water would still be useful to help the fire department fight fires in the neighborhood, and, of course, makes for a quiet, tranquil — though chain-linked — place to visit in the park.
The seismic suitability is just one of a number of factors SPU will consider for what to do next in this section of the park. It is difficult to predict how much water the city will need in the future. There will certainly be more people. Less certain are the impacts of climate change, and how often it might lead to hot, dry years.
Seattle began covering reservoirs with the Maple Leaf Reservoir in 1995. In 2004, the city covered the Lincoln reservoir, and we now know it as Cal Anderson Park. Local nonprofit the Volunteer Park Trust has dreams of making the area into a reflecting pool/promenade, but that will also have to wait until SPU makes its decision about the reservoir.
In the meantime, neighbors concerned about the loss of park space and impact from construction around the planned SAAM expansion should also start to calculate what will be coming next in the rest of the park. The SAAM project will be the subject of yet another community meeting to discuss the expansion and overhaul on Saturday.
CHS reported on the latest plans and timeline for the Asian Art Museum project in September. Current plans from LMN Architects call for the addition of a new exhibit and event space on the backside of the museum. The 1933-built Art Deco facade will remain untouched. A glass “park lobby,” also located on the east side of the building is intended to provide a stronger link between the park and the museum.
The current plan is for SAAM to close for two years starting February 27th, 2017 with construction slated to begin by fall. In the interim, the museum will move its entire collection into storage or into SAM downtown.
That work is hoped to coincide with the project to replace the Volunteer Park Amphitheater. ORA Architects and Walker Macy Landscape Architects have developed four concepts using feedback from the public and more than 30 performance organizations. The design will include a shelter, backstage space, and bathrooms built into the structure as required by the city.
It’s possible both the new bandshell and the overhauled SAAM will debut together at some point in 2019. By then, it might just be time to start talking about the construction schedule for what comes next for the reservoir and the water tower.