By Jack Stubbs
Change is coming to Spokane’s University District by way of the Catalyst Building, a new 150,000 square foot project in the works.
“What we’re trying to do with this building is connect industry and academia together in a collaborative and innovative way. We expect the building, and those that surround it, to be for academic research and connect with industry,” said Ed Schlect, VP and chief strategy officer at Avista, who is co-developing a new 150,000 square foot building in the heart of Spokane’s growing University District.
Construction on the development is set to begin in September 2018 and expected to be completed in April 2020. The project, which will connect with Spokane’s growing University District by way of the Gateway Bridge, is a joint development between Avista Development and South Landing Investors LLC, an entity comprised of long-time McKinstry executives Dean Allen and Bill Teplicky. McKinstry will be the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection and data contractor for the development in the works, and Michael Green Architecture is also on the project team.
The underway development is also indicative of large-scale changes in the works for Eastern Washington University (EWU), who will be the building’s primary tenant. The institution will be moving three of its departments—Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Visual Communication Design—from its College of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Cheney to the new Spokane location. Construction company Katerra, who will also be taking up 16,000 square feet of in the new building and will serve as the design builder of the project, has plans to open their new cross-laminated timber factory in Spokane in early 2019.
The $50 million five-story project will feature two “wings” around a collaborative atrium area and will also include dry labs, offices, classrooms and group study rooms. One of the main design features of the development is an innovation center aimed at increasing collaboration between academic institutions and industry businesses in the region, according to Schlect. “We want to put an innovation center in the building that connects various universities in the area with industry and start-ups, [similar to] a co-working kind of environment,” he said.
Along these lines, the hope is that the building—and the adjacent Gateway Bridge—will serve to revitalize Spokane’s University District. “The site is bounded on one side by the river and on the other by the railroad tracks. On the other side of the tracks is an area of East Spokane that has been under-utilized; the buildings have been older, with not a lot of activity [in them],” Shlect said. “We want to make sure that the bridge lands in a place that’s ready for redevelopment to bring new economic vibrancy to the community.”
The design team for the project also emphasized sustainability as a core element of the development: the building will feature cross-laminated timber (CLT), a mass timber building material made of laminated wood panels that will reduce the building’s environmental footprint by reducing energy use and prolonging the life of the building. The building will also be “net zero ready” and will generate the electricity that it uses through solar panels on the roof.
The hope is that the sustainable design, which represents a landmark moment in CLT construction, will also allow the building to become a more ingrained community asset, according to Schlect. “In Eastern Washington, there’s a timber industry in the outlying areas, and we’re happy to [implement] any kind of sustainable construction methodology. This building will be the first and certainly the largest office building in the state constructed out of CLT,” he said. “I don’t know whether we have any buildings in Spokane that are built around this kind of environmental charter—and part of that is demonstrating the appeal of a sustainable building to the community.”
The building could also serve as a design template for sustainable design moving forward and also addresses a need within the community from an economic perspective, according to Bill Teplicky of McKinstry. “We think sustainable development is a need that’s not really met by developers, especially in the smaller markets. The idea that you can build a structure that is five stories tall from CLT that works structurally and aesthetically is positive as well,” he said. “What we’re trying to do [with the building] is unique, and there’s really nothing like it in the Spokane area. It could be a pathway to sustainably efficient buildings and could draw more employers from outside Spokane,” Teplicky added.
The Catalyst building is one of several in the works in the U-District: Avista also owns parcels to the south, east and west of the project site and has plans for future development of those locations, according to Schlect. “We hope that this building will become the launchpad to additional buildings to further inspire economic growth,” he said. “What we’ve done by aggregating the parcels that we have is connect this building with adjacent buildings to look at ways we can leverage the building infrastructures for sustainability,” he said. As part of this effort, several of the building’s sustainability features—including the rainwater recovery system and rooftop solar panels—will be shared across other nearby buildings.
A collaborative effort between Eastern Washington University, McKinstry and Avista, the development in the works will also represent a new method of collaborating between public and private entities in the Spokane community, according to Tepicky. “We’ve seen the benefits that can [result from] the partnership between public and private entities. The idea that EWU can sit side by side with Avista and collaborate with its engineers to develop ideas…is a way of the future,” he said. In the longer term, the hope is that employers in the surrounding region will be attracted by the population of approximately 22,000 students in Spokane, according to Tepicky. The University hopes to increase the regional workforce in areas like engineering, computer science, data analytics and digital media.
As far as EWU is concerned, the new building will allow the institution to expand its footprint in Spokane. The institution’s college of business and administration and college of health sciences and public health currently serve 3,000 students in the area. EWU’s plans to move its three departments to the new building will involve the relocation of 60 faculty members and 1,000 students, according to Scott Gordon, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Eastern Washington University. The institution’s decision to relocate three of its programs reflects the broader long-term goals of the University. “One of the things EWU is looking towards is more collaboration between higher education and the business and industry sectors and helping business and industry solve problems to generate more of a creative economy,” Gordon said. The Catalyst Building will also allow for the creation of new programs at EWU’s home campus in Cheney, which is 16 miles from Spokane.
The partnership between academic institutions and private entities like Avista and McKinstry is something that Gordon hopes to see more of in the future. “This is a direction our institution is going, and the direction that many academic institutions are going. Business and industry and regional non-profit partnerships are an important part of our region,” he said. And ultimately, the design and programming of the building—in particular, the planned innovation center—will serve to reinforce this ethos of community collaboration. “We really want to find the design that will force this interaction between tenants of the building from different entities and disciplines to come together and ideate how we can come together to solve real-world problems,” he said.