An ‘extraordinarily severe’ emergency: the radioactive leak at Harborview

A small platform crane hoists two men up near the roof gutter of a flat, one-floor building on the Harborview campus on First Hill. Slowly, one of the men moves a thick, round bar roughly six inches along the gutter with his right hand, stops, and then looks at the radiation survey meter in his left. Then he moves the bar another six inches. And another.

If there is any radiation left from the leak of radioactive material that left 13 people exposed during the decommissioning of an irradiator device in the middle of Seattle on May 2nd, these men will find it and wipe it down.

The concrete L-shaped loading dock and parking lot, wedged between the UW Medicine Harborview Medical Center Research and Training Building and a small administrative building near Terry Ave and Terrace, is already polka-dotted with white paint marks, designating areas where potential traces of Cesium-137 were found.

While being checked for radioactive residue, the R&T building is still on lockdown. State Patrol troopers guard the fenced-off entrances to make sure no one can go in and out. From behind the chain-link, there is not much to see — no Chernobyl-like scenes here — except for a sidewalk-wide stripe of white paint near the loading dock doors and a white plastic box covering the ventilation system. The parking lot exudes a ghostly calm.

Here, the night of May 2nd, crews from the Seattle Fire Department rushed to the scene to try to make sense of a rare incident that involved more than 50 people from at least six different agencies, including the department’s HAZMAT team, the Washington State Department of Health, the FBI, University of Washington, and a clean up crew with over 40 officials from the US Department of Energy.

More than six weeks after the leak, little is publicly known about what happened that night — and what went wrong.

Records obtained by CHS, reports by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as interviews with officials from the University of Washington, Washington State Department of Health and the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration shed more light on the night of the leak, and the aftermath.

The plan for that night, with preparations launched early this year, had been months in the making.

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A new contemporary art museum will open this year in derelict office building on First Hill

Boarded up windows, graffiti and overgrown vines. For the last year, that was the view for anyone walking, biking, driving or riding the streetcar past the beige midcentury building on the intersection of Boylston Ave, Marion, and Broadway.

Not for much longer. By this fall, the former office building owned by Swedish Health Services will reopen as a contemporary art museum, courtesy of Greg Lundgren of Vito’s and The Hideout and art production company Vital 5 Productions. With Vital 5, Lundgren has organized sweeping temporary exhibitions in buildings slated for development during the Seattle Art Fair in 2016 and 2017.

Last week, Lundgren signed a lease on the First Hill problem property, a midcentury building that belongs to Swedish Health Services and for years operated as a medical office and retail space (selling prosthetics for people with breast cancer) and most recently a storage facility. The building stood empty for at least a year.

“Right now it looks like a haunted house,” Lundgren says of the first floor when CHS met him in the building, dusty and full of knocked-out wooden beams and walls, the windows still boarded up. “I think in a couple of months it’s going to be pretty special.” Continue reading

Town Hall reopens after $35 million overhaul of First Hill’s historic venue

When, almost precisely 13 years ago, the 22-year old cellist Joshua Roman stepped onto the stage of Town Hall, he made local music history. It was Roman’s first solo recital after leaving the Seattle Symphony where he’d been the youngest principal cellist ever.

Tuesday night, Roman will make history again. This time, he’s the first performer to fill Town Hall’s Great Hall with music after it has been closed for a 20-month renovation.

The First Hill cultural and civic venue, a Seattle landmark built as a Christian Science Church about a century ago, reopens Tuesday after an extensive renovation, which included a refresh of the glazed terra cotta exterior, a new roof, seismic retrofit, and much-needed accessibility upgrades.

The overhauled Town Hall was initially set to open in 2018 but complications pushed the opening date back to March and then May of this year. The venue’s certificate of occupancy was cleared just last week. When CHS visited, painters were putting finishing touches on the freshly white-painted window frames, and workers were still busy installing lights in the Great Hall.

Though Town Hall had been hosting some events in its downstairs space since April, the entire building opens tonight during what the nonprofit calls a “soft launch.” The official month-long opening festival Homecoming, originally scheduled for this spring, is now planned to run in September.

Roman’s cello concert wasn’t intended to be Town Hall 2.0’s first performance. Somehow, the stars aligned. Continue reading

Design reviews: An even friendlier proposal for church-friendly 8-story project on First Hill

Most projects considered by the East Design Review Board come to the table with three options and a proposed “preferred” design that the developers and architects have settled on. The board typically doesn’t question the selection and sets about helping to shape the design. But in the case of a planned eight-story apartment block planned to rise across from First Hill’s First Baptist Church, the board not only said nope to the preferred design, it tossed all three proposals out.

“The Board was disappointed by the lack of any significant variation between the three schemes, and that there was no exploration of other forms that might allow the project to step back from the street-edge and create conditions that better meet the criteria in the Design Guidelines,” the report from the review meeting reads.

Wednesday night, developer Carmel Partners and Encore Architects hope to erase that disappointment with a new early design proposal to get the project back on track.

Design review: 1100 Boylston Ave

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You’ll need to scan your fingerprints to get into Birch Road Cellar, a new ‘BYOB members club’ in historic First Hill landmark

More than a hundred years ago, it housed the horse-drawn carriages of the Stimson family. Until the mid-1970s, it harbored the famous car collection of Seattle businessman Joshua Green. And starting Friday, the historic First Hill Stimson-Green carriage house will be home to the new “BYOB members club” Birch Road Cellar.

Club owners and lifelong friends Sharon Provins and Kim Bosse call it a “new spin on the private members club concept” and “an oasis for friends to spend the night together uninterrupted.”

Members pay $105 or $135 per month for a storage locker for their favorite wines and spirits, which they can drink in a space that’s not exactly home, but not really a bar, either. It’s open until 2 AM, yes, but doesn’t sell any alcohol. And you’ll need to unlock two doors with your fingerprint — or accompany someone who can. Continue reading

Police search for pink purse bandit after First Hill credit union hold-ups — UPDATE

Not the suspect’s purse

With the suspect’s reported get-up, you wouldn’t think they would get far but for the second day in a row, a First Hill bank has been robbed by a bandit with a fantastic outfit.

Seattle Police were called to the bank in the 1100 block of Madison Tuesday afternoon just after 4:15 PM to a report of a robbery involving a suspect described as a person in their 60s wearing a scarf, a cardigan over a striped dress, and carrying a pink purse.

The suspect also reportedly had a teardrop tattoo near their eye. Continue reading

Here’s what 150 or so new apartments surrounding the (newly landmarked) Knights of Columbus building will look like

Still only a massing proposal and a design concept, this is what could rise next to the Knights of the Columbus building

Here is the first look at early design proposals for the two projects that will work together to shepherd the newly landmarks protected Knights of Columbus building into its new adaptive reuse future and add more than 150 new apartments to the block at Union and Harvard.

Design review: 704 E Union St and 722 E Union St

The projects from developers SRM Development and the Runberg Architecture Group will begin the city’s design review process with a joint session Wednesday night. Continue reading

In deference to neighboring church, ‘graceful’ First Hill apartment tower will rise only 8 stories — UPDATE

Wednesday morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan will be at Capitol Hill Housing’s affordable 12th Ave Arts building to sign into law the expansion of Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program into neighborhoods across the city including Capitol Hill. Wednesday night, a project to create some 350 new market rate apartments on First Hill will go before the design board for its first review.

While the timing of the eight-story project means its developer won’t be required to pay into the MHA pool — projects vested to a Land Use Code in effect before the upzones won’t be subject to the expanded program — the new development planned for 1100 Boylston will replace a surface parking lot with lots of new First Hill housing.

Design review: 1100 Boylston Ave

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First Hill Improvement Association to discuss neighborhood homelessness and social services

A First Hill neighborhood clean up last fall

As Capitol Hill’s community council has shifted to focus more on events and causes — believe CHS, you could do a lot worse — First Hill’s central community organization has stuck to a more traditional approach tackling neighborhood issues and discussing opportunities at its monthly meetings.

Tuesday night brings the March meeting of the First Hill Improvement Association. If you are interested, it takes place starting at 6 PM at Terry Ave’s Frye Art Museum. The March agenda centers on homelessness issues in the neighborhood: Continue reading

Destined for overhaul and preservation as part of mixed-use development, Harvard Ave’s Knights of Columbus building considered for landmarks protections — UPDATE

For a century, it was almost exclusively Catholic men called Knights who were allowed to freely roam the lounges, smoking room and bowling alley of the Knights of Columbus headquarters on the south edge of Capitol Hill. They could work out, or attend Glee Club, dinners, and public speaking classes. Women could not be members. They hung out in the Ladies Parlor.

If everything goes according to plan, by 2021 or so, people of all types will be able to roam the three-story steel and brick masonry, Renaissance Revival-style building. The new owner, SRM Development, a Spokane-based developer of multifamily and commercial properties, hopes to refurbish the historic building through adaptive reuse.

Wednesday afternoon, Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board will consider the nomination of the building for historical protections during a public meeting and presentation. Continue reading