If Kshama Sawant wants to save a Seattle performance venue, we’ve found one closer to Capitol Hill than the Showbox to work on. Time is gradually running out for the Broadway Performance Hall at Seattle Central College. College officials hope to overhaul the building and end its days as a venue for local plays and performances, but state budgeting priorities mean construction isn’t likely to start for at least five or six years.
The building is more than 100 years old though it was “modernized” in 1979 and rates the lowest on the campus in terms of facilities, said Barbara Childs, spokesperson for Seattle Central. While it met standards when it was built, it is no longer up to code in terms of energy efficiency or seismic standards. Additionally, the sandstone keeps absorbing water, causing more problems, Childs said.
Beyond the need for physical upgrades, the school is in need of more library space, and more space for open studying, in order to meet accreditation standards. The school hopes to meet all of those goals with one large project.
Besides bringing the building up to code, the performance hall will be carved up into the additional space needed to meet curriculum needs, meaning the 295-seat auditorium will be no more. Childs was quick to point out that Seattle Central will still have the Erickson Theater on Harvard, which can accommodate an audience of around 150.
Childs noted that the school does not have a drama program, so maintaining two theater spaces doesn’t really tie in well with the school’s curriculum.
Seattle Central has quietly been going about planning on the project that would transform the interior of the only remaining part of Seattle’s first high school, Broadway High and one of the city’s locations on the National Register of Historic Places. CHS learned about the proposal as we looked into the community oversight committee that helps guide campus development. But it’s a little early for big announcements. Any changes are years away.
For one, there is the Seattle process. School officials have been told the building does not meet the criteria for landmark preservation and there are no changes planned to the exterior of the building, so they don’t expect to have to jump through that hoop. However, the changes will likely trigger a review under the State Environmental Protection Act.
Money is a bigger question.
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At present, the renovation is projected to cost $24.9 million. The school has set aside $3 million, and was hoping to see the balance of nearly $22 million from the state. They were asking that the funds come spread across two budgets (Washington state operates on a two-year budget cycle), with design funded in the first cycle and construction in the second.
However, in Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed 2019-2021 budget, there is no funding for the performance hall changeover. Childs said that the renovations to the facility ranked 24th out of 24 potential projects in Inslee’s budget. Only 17 of those 24 were recommended for funding.
While anything can happen once the Legislature gets ahold of the budget early in January, Childs is not optimistic that the school will receive any money in this biennium. More likely, she said, is that the project design shows up in the 2021-23 budget.
“I think we’ll see it in the next go-round,” Childs said.
That would push back design until the first round of funding comes through, in the second half of 2021, meaning construction wouldn’t be likely to start until the 2023-25 budget, at best. The delay means that the projected project cost will likely change (almost certainly getting more expensive) prior to the start of construction.
There may be other possibilities to fill the void after the concert hall goes away, Childs pointed out. The school is currently raising funds for a new technology center on the site that had long been home to trailers during Broadway light rail construction. The property north of campus was acquired in a four-way swap between Seattle Centra land the state community college system, Sound Transit, and Capitol Hill Housing.
That building could be as tall as six stories, meaning there might be opportunities for some performance space, depending on its final configuration. The timeline for that project is even more uncertain — the school is hoping for private donations to fund it.