Graphic: Docomomo WEWA / Photo: Abby Inpanbutr

Graphic: Docomomo WEWA / Photo: Abby Inpanbutr

The University of Washington recently released its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed construction of the new Computer Science and Engineering Building II (CSE II), which lays out four alternatives for analysis. The Draft SEIS is a long document (300+ pages). To view the full Draft SEIS, download it here (49.5 MB PDF). We poured through the entire document and provide this summary, evaluation, and call to action for you.

  • The "preferred alternative" would result in the demolition of the significant National Register-listed Nuclear Reactor Building for the construction of the new CSE II building.
  • A second alternative shows the new construction engulfing the Nuclear Reactor Building—a concept that fails to meet the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.
  • A third alternative offers a different nearby site for the CSE II building, just south of the University of Washington Club, a modernist masterpiece on the campus.   
  • The fourth alternative is to take no action (this is standard in all environmental impact statements).

From our review of the Draft SEIS, we feel that the University has not adequately considered the adverse effects to the Nuclear Reactor Building (aka More Hall Annex). The Draft SEIS considers only two sites for the CSE II project (sites 16C and 14C; 16C is where the Nuclear Reactor Building is located).   

What You Can Do

If you care about this issue, please voice your support for a meaningful preservation alternative for the Nuclear Reactor Building. Tell the University of Washington it can do better, and must do better. Submit written comments to the UW by Monday, November 23, 2015. Address comments to Jan Arntz, SEPA Responsible Official, jarntz@uw.edu.

Following are some points to consider conveying to the UW in addition to your own personal thoughts on why the Nuclear Reactor Building is significant to you and why it should be preserved and adaptively reused:

  • It is clear that the UW's "preferred alternative" leaves no room for preservation and should not be pursued.
  • Encourage the UW to consider more potential site alternatives. Site 16C (the preferred site) includes the National Register-listed Nuclear Reactor Building. We understand other potential sites were removed from further consideration due to characteristics deemed incompatible with the proposed CSE II project – described as "fatal flaws." We believe the presence of a National Register-listed resource should also constitute a "fatal flaw" for the site, as its demolition is inconsistent with general national and state policy related to historic and cultural resources. It is inappropriate to use public dollars in a project that will result in the demolition of a nationally recognized historic resource.
  • The preferred site (16C) also contains a massive underground oil tank (larger than the footprint of the Nuclear Reactor Building) that the UW chooses to retain. The UW's preferred alternative preserves an old fossil fuel source of energy and destroys a National Register-listed building. Alternative Two also preserves the oil tank, leaving considerably less potential buildable area for the new construction of the proposed CSE II building. This second alternative forces the new construction to be wedged onto the site, smothering the Nuclear Reactor Building. The University should fully explore other scenarios that would actually comply with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.  
  • The Draft SEIS has not adequately analyzed the environmental impacts of retaining an oil tank in place while it proposes to construct an expensive new building in very close proximity to the oil tank. This places the University in a vulnerable and risky environmental position in the future.
  • Alternative Three on site 14C just south of the University of Washington Club should be explored further and considered as a viable alternative. The new CSE II building could be built on this site without demolishing any historic structures. Care would need to be taken in the design and siting of the CSE II building given the proximity to the University of Washington Club. This site is a pleasant and short walk to the existing Paul Allen Center and should not be dismissed because it does not have the same proximity as site 16C, across Stevens Way from the Paul Allen Center.   
  • Development and construction activities are guided in part by the university’s Campus Master Plan. While the existing Master Plan controls certain things such as height limits, there exists an opportunity to site, orient and locate a new building with different design factors than those currently allowed. As UW is planning to update its existing Campus Plan (this process is currently underway), consideration should be given to adjusting these factors to allow for a more vertical design for the new building, thus requiring a smaller footprint and potentially avoiding or reducing adverse impacts to the Nuclear Reactor Building.

As a leading public university in the United States, with an outstanding architecture department, UW has access to an exceptional community of design and preservation professionals, faculty/staff, students, alumni, etc. who care about what happens to the university campus. With all these resources available, the University needs to try harder and work with the larger community to come up with a truly creative design solution that both preserves and honors the Nuclear Reactor Building in a respectful manner and allows for the construction of the new CSE II building.