By Jack Stubbs
Big changes are afoot at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, the sprawling 700 acre city within a city. With the 2018 Campus Master Plan (CMP)—an agreement between the University of Washington and the City of Seattle—the University is proposing large-scale developments for the institution, which will continue to evolve over the months ahead, and will come to life in the years and decades to come. The 2018 CMP has identified 86 potential development sites throughout the University’s roughly 700-acre campus, with up to 6 million square feet of new development planned for the Central, West, South and East campuses.
The CMP is the latest chapter in redevelopment plans for the University and builds upon the 2003 CMP, which allowed the University to grow by 3 million square feet at the time. It also helped shape the thinking on how the University would grow over the next decade and beyond in response to increasing student enrollment and research demands, according to Theresa Doherty, senior project director of the 2018 Campus Master Plan.
The earlier proposal laid the preliminary groundwork for the contemporary undertaking. But while the lifespan of the 2003 plan was 15 years, the timeline for the current CMP could be longer depending on a number of factors, according to Doherty. “It could be longer, it all depends on the funding needed to develop the buildings,” she said. Work on the 2018 CMP began in 2015 when the university and the City of Seattle started to develop a 10-year conceptual plan for campus growth, a plan that balances the preservation of the historic assets of the campus with planned investment and redevelopment opportunities.
The figure of 6 million developable square feet was determined by a consideration of past precedent as well as the current needs of the campus, according to Doherty. “In the Master Plan, we discuss a number of uses that we have on campus, such as student housing, academic buildings and intercollegiate athletic facilities. There are a bunch of different uses that a university typically has…based on what other universities have done in the past, we identified a deficit of around 6 million square feet [at the University].”
The ultimate growth allowance explored in the CMP is in part determined by expected growth of the student body in the coming years. “The other way [we determined the growth allowance] was by looking at the number of new faculty and staff that we will have on campus, and how much square footage that they would need,” Doherty added.
The plan identifies 86 potential development sites, which overall contain a maximum development potential of nearly 12 million gross square feet of redevelopment and development in new buildings—of which 6 million is net new gross square feet. The potential development sites are spread throughout four campus sectors with the following general development parameters: 900,000 new gross square feet at Central Campus; 3 million at West Campus; 1,350,000 at the South Campus; and 750,000 at the East Campus. The CMP includes specific strategies and recommendations for each of the four campus sectors, which we will outline in greater detail in articles over the next few weeks.
The five overarching principles of the CMP include a flexible framework; the encouragement of learning-based academic and research partnerships; promoting sustainable development; increasing connectivity of the University internally and in the broader surrounding community; and preservation of the institution’s historic, cultural and ecological resources.
These five fundamental principles are geared at enhancing the University’s internal functionality and external integration with the rest of the city. Of the CMP’s flexible framework, Doherty said, “As the University looks within the boundaries of the campus, they’ll go through a site selection process. The flexible framework will ensure that we’re able to meet the different needs of each department over time.” Concerning the learning-based academic and research partnerships, Doherty explained how the CMP aimed to “look at how all these partnerships interconnect to ensure that we have the right facilities and connections with the campus.” The practical concern of internal connectivity is an especially important focus moving forward given the size of a campus as large as the University of Washington’s, according to Doherty. “There are close to 700 acres within the campus; we want to make sure that people have easy and safe access throughout the campus, including down to the waterfront,” she added.
Open space considerations are also important in the context of the CMP, and they reinforce the University’s commitment to the creation of green spaces, landscape features and sustainable development—the specific development needs of the University are balanced with current open spaces already evident throughout the campus. Proposed new open spaces include the West Campus Green, South Campus Green, East Campus Connection and the Continuous Waterfront Trail. The planned open space developments are meant to preserve various view corridors, including the Rainier Vista, Olympic Vista and Portage Bay Vista, as well as the view toward the Portage Bay waterfront across the South Campus Green and the view south to Portage Bay across the West Campus Green, among others.
The preservation of the University’s cultural and historical elements is a foremost concern, which influenced subsequent development and zoning standards, according to Doherty. “[This principle] is about preserving some of the buildings that are historic assets, which is one of the reasons why we chose not to increase the height zoning in Central Campus, the core of the campus,” Doherty said. Moving forward, the longstanding ethos of the campus—its history and character—will be an important consideration going forward. “As we look at different sites, if there’s a building that’s been there for over 50 years, that becomes a factor in our decision as to whether we should have new developments [there or somewhere else],” Doherty added.
In addition to the five core principles of the CMP, public community outreach is an important aspect of the University’s planned expansion project. Throughout the CMP planning process, the University conducted extensive community outreach, primarily throughout the Public Participation Program. This program is a part of the City-University Agreement (CUA), a development regulation that defines relations between the city and the University for the Major Institution master planning process. The CUA also outlines how the city and the University will work with the City-University Community Advisory Committee and residents from the surrounding community, with campus and community reviews to take place during the development of the preliminary, draft, and final CMPs.
And while public outreach to the community has heavily influenced the creation of the 2018 CMP, the University also has its own review process independent of the city-wide review process imposed on other developments. “The University has its own internal Design Review Board. We have an architectural commission and a landscape committee that meet monthly and review the project to give guidance. [Our Review Board] ensures that whatever is being built is consistent with the Master Plan,” Doherty said. The University will adhere to the CMP for any developments that fall within the boundaries of the 700-acre campus, while and redevelopments beyond the campus boundaries would be regulated by the City’s land-use code.
Doherty thinks that the CMP will reach the City Council sometime around Winter 2018, where the plan will be discussed. “Then it will come back to the Board of Regents in the form of preliminary ordinance, and the Board of Regents will review that and respond back to the City Council sometime in April or May of 2018.” Ultimately, Doherty hopes that the University will have a final plan by summer 2018, but the CMP will not become officially approved until it is given the green light by both the Board of Regents and the Seattle City Council.