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: