A proposed set of updates to Seattle Central’s growth plan could mean some big changes for the school and the neighborhood over the next 20 years including a new technology building on Broadway and new student housing replacing the school’s massive E Pine parking garage. In more normal times, the master plan update would be chugging along right now, holding meetings, gathering public comment, revising drafts of the proposed changes. Typically, this sort of update would take two years.
But like everything else, the update is on a kind of pause while we wait for the COVID-19 crisis to shake out.
Seattle Central, like all large institutions (mostly colleges and hospitals) across the city, has its own land use master plan separate from the surrounding neighborhood. The current plan for Seattle Central was developed in 2002, with the idea that it would last for 10 years. So, in true Seattle style, here we are 18 years later doing the update.
But even that will take longer than it usually would. Brittney Moraski, a member of the advisory committee studying the update, noted there is a moratorium on meetings for their committee and others like it, owing to virus concerns. Meetings through June have been canceled. July isn’t looking good, either.
“Our work has been paused,” she said.
Some of the process has moved online.
Moraski said she is looking forward to hearing what the public wants from the new plan, everything from mobility and safety concerns to the impacts campus changes might have on the community at large.
“We’re trying to act in the best interests of the community and the students,” she said.
Whether the update is done in person or online, the proposal sets the stage for big changes to the Broadway institution and its surrounding area.
“Capitol Hill and Seattle have radically changed since the last version of our master plan. We need an update to be able to develop the Broadway campus in ways that meet our goals and the demands of our audiences, while also contributing to the smart and human-scale development of our neighborhood,” said Roberto Bonaccorso, director of communications for Seattle Central.
It’s important to note this is a planning document with a 20-year timeline. It’s a list of things that could theoretically happen one day. There is no funding attached to any of the proposals, nor are there projected timelines for building out the plan. Even though it’s considered a 20-year plan, that doesn’t necessarily mean everything in it will necessarily be finished, or even started, in 20 years.
One factor driving the changes is enrollment. Seattle Central projects they will have about 7,500 full time equivalent students by the end of the planning horizon, an increase of 650 students from 2019 numbers. Growth is driven by a number of factors, including Seattle’s general population growth, and programs like Seattle Promise, which gives two years of tuition-free education to graduates of Seattle public high schools.
One of the more basic changes is to re-draw the map of what is considered part, or potentially part, of the campus. The school has done a few land deals and acquired new buildings and sites, and has hopes for acquiring some others, all of which will be included in the master planning. This would bring the total plan area from today’s 9.99 acres to 12.18 acres.
The plan states that much of the area has a 65-foot height limit. The update calls for increasing the limit to 105 feet across the entire campus. They are also planning to seek permission to build denser building, according to the proposal.
The plan calls for four major building projects, which would add more than 77,000 square feet of useable space.
One of the larger additions in the plan is a way to help all those students embrace the college experience, on-campus housing. The plan calls for construction of a dormitory for about 500 students. Bonaccorso said the school currently offers housing for 74 mostly international students by subcontracting with a nearby property owner. But the hope is to expand that option and allow even more students to live on campus.
The housing would be located on what is now the school’s heavily used parking garage on Harvard Ave, across from the Broadway Performance Hall. The new building would have three levels of parking under five floors of housing.
In addition to helping expand options for students, closer housing is hoped to help keep down the number of single-occupant car commuters in the long term. The school has made strides in this area, currently only about 34% of faculty and 17% of students driving alone. They expect, even with the higher enrollment, to maintain about the same number of parking spots, though they will largely be consolidated into two lots.
Another of the new projects would be the construction of a new Information Technology Education Center building on Site D, between the northern end of campus and the light rail station. This would be a major new academic building, which would include space for student services, technology classrooms and labs, and space for other classrooms. It is also anticipated to include three floors of space to be leased to college-related partner groups. The property was acquired in a three-way swap involving the school, Sound Transit, and Capitol Hill Housing.
The plan reflects a proposal to renovate the Broadway Performance Hall, a 100-year-old building that needs a bit of a facelift. Though that part of the update is a bit further along than many of the other parts of the master plan, it’s unfunded, and not likely to get started within the next 10 years or so.
The plan also calls for renovations to the existing student union and bookstore, across Broadway from the main campus. The plans call for renovating existing buildings and adding a floor with an eye toward expanding the activities offered there.
Other parts of the proposed plan lay out what the school would do with the Presbyterian Church on Harvard and Howell, along with another property on the north side of Howell. The church closed its doors in 2018, and has been empty since, but the site is still owned by the regional Presbyterian church. The school has been in talks to acquire the property. The master plan calls for constructing a new building on the property, though it’s unclear what programs would be housed in it.
Bonccurso notes nothing is likely to happen soon.
“The church property and its future has been a topic of discussion between the Seattle Presbytery and the college, but is not something we anticipate acting on in the immediate future. The Presbytery would prefer to see it re-developed as workforce affordable housing,” he said.
The plan also calls for sprucing up the area for pedestrians. It expects streetscape improvements along Broadway, enhancements to the crosswalk across Broadway, and also to the pedestrian pathway that will be created between the existing main campus buildings and the proposed new tech building.
Under typical circumstances, the entire process for the update should take 24 months, said Maureen Sheehan of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. She said they hope to continue proceeding using online meetings, but it is unclear how well they will work, or the impact it will have on the update’s timeline.
The timing for all of this to get built is another question. Some of these projects could take another two decades for funding and opportunity to come together — the Broadway technology building first appeared in the school’s plans back in 2001 — but not all of them will take such a gradual pace. The plan for changes around the Broadway campus is here and being shaped. New growth around Seattle Central will — eventually — follow. Your chance to help shape it has arrived. You can review the plan and provide comments here.