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Here’s what will happen during ’14 to 15 months’ of Seattle Asian Art Museum construction

On March 13th, a ceremony will mark the start of more than a year of construction to overhaul and expand the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. The construction fences are already up. Neighbors and park lovers with questions about how the construction will impact the public space and surrounding neighborhood met with officials Thursday night.

Ahead of the official groundbreaking ceremony, representatives for the SAAM renovation project invited the community to Miller Community Center Thursday night for a construction presentation. Superintendents from the construction company BN Builders presented their build-out plan alongside the museum’s chief operating officer and a Volunteer Park projects manager.

The Seattle-based company BN Builders’s winning construction bid of $31.9 million includes conservation of park trees, subterranean wiring and new walking paths. Lingering questions about the project took the meeting over schedule by almost an hour.

Jeremy Jones and Mike Muth, superintendents of BN Builders, provided a slideshow of the buildout details, which included designated parking areas, driving paths and working hours.

“We want to keep everyone safe, we lose sleep over this,” said Jones.

The presentation quickly gave way to questioning from concerned community members who at some points became combative with the panelists.

“The park belongs to the people of Seattle,” a community member said to the panel “despite what you may think.”

Throughout the meeting, a handful of neighborhood residents raised most of the questions, almost all surrounding the fate of Volunteer Park’s trees.

“These trees are facing incredible threats to their well-being as it is,” said Eliza Davidson, board member of Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks.

Portions of the existing pathways will be augmented, and new walking paths drawn.


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SAAM’s Richard Beckerman aided the superintendents through their explanation of path reconstruction by reassuring attendees that the Olmsted’s original design will continue e.g. graded paths will be paved, while flat ones covered with crushed stone. The park, museum and construction trifecta issued their plan to balance the Olmsted legacy and effective renovation to the community, promising to meet the civil tolerance of park adjacent residents.

“Any change is going to stimulate people,” said Beckerman.

A three-and-a-half-foot trench will cross some of the walking path to refit conduit and wiring to the museum, however, each day after working hours, the path will be covered for pedestrian use.

“I live in the area and I’m concerned about the impact –- I know how the City of Seattle works. I feel like all development applications get rubber-stamped and no one ever speaks up for the trees,” said one community member.

“I think we got the drift, that we all care about the trees,” said Kelly Gould of Seattle Park. Contracted arborist company Tree Solutions will be on-site during any construction occurring near or around Volunteer Park trees.

Renovation will expand the museum to 13,000 square feet, extending the back-end of the museum’s footprint 3,600 square feet into the park. Some trees deemed unhealthy by the parks department will be removed completely form the park while a few behind the museum will be relocated.

The City of Seattle has approved driving paths and parking for the construction crew who are permitted to park their vehicles on the right-side shoulder of the park grounds south of the tennis courts. According to BNB superintendent Jones, the SAAM renovation is a mid-level project for the company, that is also currently responsible for the Denny Hall construction at University of Washington.

Expansion of the museum will begin in April during a period of demolition that will continue through May. The “impact,” or loud portion of construction is scheduled to be complete by October of this year.

Officials say the $54-million renovation ppgrading the infrastructure and seismic stability, as well as installing a climate- control system of the museum is a necessary tradeoff — the inability to bring prized exhibitions with building conditions of the 100 -year-old museum deteriorating underserves the community wanting for world-class Asian American, South Pacific and Indian art. Expansion of the Seattle Art Museum downtown is a non-starter, as their upper levels are leased to renters such as Nordstrom until 2031 in order to repay the debt of their own 2007 construction.

Last February, officials put the museum project back in motion after a brief pause. That month, visitors also said goodbye to SAAM before the planned two-year closure. After the coming “14–15 months” of construction, the overhauled facility is projected to open in October 2019, when it will be open to the public 40 hours per week for 50 weeks out of the year.

Museum and park management have no plans for future meetings. The communications departments for both agencies say they will address any ongoing or future community concerns by updating the frequently Asked Questions sections and direct engagement with commenters.

UPDATE: If you would like to attend the groundbreaking ceremony, the event is scheduled to begin at 1 PM, Tuesday, March 13th on the terrace outside SAAM:

Official Groundbreaking For Renovation And Expansion Of Seattle Asian Art Museum’s Historic Building

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12 thoughts on “Here’s what will happen during ’14 to 15 months’ of Seattle Asian Art Museum construction” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. the entire city is under construction and this park is my sanctuary away from all the crunching of demolition on every block in the neighborhood and now this? the front lawn is the best park of the park and those giant wise elder trees are going to be uprooted and moved? This is beyond outrageous, we can no longer count on our city to have our backs, greed has clearly taken over and its super sad.

  2. This is the only SAAM renovation/expansion community meeting I’ve attended and I went specifically to find out about one tree that never seemed to be in planning art.

    I would not use the term “handful” – there were quite a number of commenters and they were people who had been working/volunteering and donating to the Park for decades – the majority of attendees appeared to be seniors and just the general disrespect I’ve seen in comments here is really insulting – because these folks predate my arrival here, but they are clearly why the park is so well loved and maintained.

    As fresh eyes to this engagement I found the SAAM and City reps to be prepared to support the contractors (who were great!!) but unprepared to engage in an open and respectful way with **new** information that was brought up.

    There was loud sighing and eye rolling from them – it was disappointing, unprofessional, and a bit shocking to be honest. It was clear that issues were brought up that were NOT the “same old thing” – which was the attitude –
    -that being: “we’re doing this, get over it, you are wasting everyone’s time”).

    RE: trees determined to be removed because they were “unhealthy” – if the design calls for it, it’s obviously in the City’s interest to have the city arborist determine that the tree is unhealthy. Audience member pointed out that this tree became unhealthy due the museum failing to fix a drainage issue it had been notified of with plenty of time to address the issue.

    RE: new information that got dragged out of SAAM rep – SAAM is selling naming rights – names of donors are going to be engraved on the bases of the Camel sculptures. Apparently this was never approved in any design meeting and only made the floor because a donor received a mailer asking for a contribution.

    RE: new information on construction – the water line dig that will cover a relatively significant pathway all around the east side of the park and also disrupt root systems.

    If the people in the room did not trust that the city’s priority protecting trees – and by protect they mean long term – a tree may APPEAR to have survived construction but has actually experienced enough trauma to begin showing signs of dying within 5 years – you can’t blame them.
    Seattle pays lip service to tree preservation, but the only trees in the city that are TRULY protected are the ones in the parks. And once a 70 year old tree is gone, it’s gone for your lifelime.

  3. Just a thought “wayoutwest.” You said, “This is the only SAAM renovation/expansion community meeting I’ve attended and I went specifically to find out about one tree that never seemed to be in planning art.” If you’d been to some meetings previously you might have a sense why there was some eye-rolling going on. People may be bringing up new things, but this has been going on a long time. And there have been opportunities for comments before. A lot of the community is really behind this, and we have been for a long time.

    • HTS3 – I am well aware that there are people who approve of / are very excited for the SAAM expansion. I don’t care if the presenters are covering the same information in a relatively contained meeting that that’s only going to last about an hour – it was new to some of us. And unless you work for the city or SAAM, feel free to eyeroll away in your chair – I wasn’t talking about you.

  4. The eye rolling stems from SAM/Parks representatives having to answer direct questions from the unwashed. Most of the process has involved them conversing with like-minded people on Landmarks Board or City Council then the few park supporters follow with 1- to 2-minute comments. No questions from the common folk.

  5. Last night you saw Mr. Beckerman of SAM squirm. He couldn’t even answer the question from the Russian pigeon-feeder dude who hangs out in the park: Why take more park land when the original revered designers pleaded with the city not to build there at all? And notice Beckerman didn’t care for the idea of honoring the people of Seattle for their $20-million contribution to the remodel.

  6. It was entirely predictable that the same people who opposed this project over the last year or so would now continue to protest various elements of it. They just don’t know when to call it a day.

    As for tree removal/relocation, I would trust an experienced arborist to make this decision over random/disgruntled neighbors any day. There is at least one tree there which is obviously dead, even to an untrained eye.

    • The tree that is struggling to come back after being drowned by the building’s broken drain system is at 85’ the tallest Abies Nordmanniana (Caucasian/Turkish Fir) in Seattle. A fine specimen and why we take pride in our Olmsted park system